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The Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wannamaker playhouse

First Published 8 February 2016, Last Updated 6 June 2018

What’s it all about?

Arguably Shakespeare’s most ludicrous character, the insanely jealous without any justification Leontes, sets in motion a devastating series of events when he accuses his wife of bumping nasties with his best friend. Cue death, flight and teeth-gnashing.

Sixteen years on and it’s all a lot more jolly, as a princess who thinks she’s a farmer’s daughter falls for a prince pretending not to be royal. Don’t worry, it all comes together.

Who’s in it?

John Light – nominated for an Olivier last year for his Taken At Midnight performance – is fiercely intense as Leontes, whether chillingly quiet in his delivery or violently enraged.

Niamh Cusack is simply fierce as Paulina, as she squares up to the paranoid patriarch.

In the far more chilled second half setting of Bohemia, Mr Shakespeare’s Globe, James Garnon, is an irresistibly roguish Autolycus, bringing joy to the space with romping songs and working the audience like a music hall pro.

What should I look out for?

You’ll have trouble looking for it, as almost all the candles are extinguished, but the play’s arrival in Bohemia displays the Sam Wanamaker’s attributes at their atmospheric best.

For sheer joyful rompiness though, you’ll grin from here to there during the sheep shearing celebrations, both at the rustic beauty of Richard Kent’s design and Simon Slater’s full-bodied song.

Oh, and at the start of the second half, during Time’s speech, glance up. There’s a chap playing a glass on the balcony.

In a nutshell?

Director Michael Longhurst perfectly balances intensity and fun in Shakespeare’s play of two halves.

What’s being said on Twitter?


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Will I like it?

Let’s make no bones about it, The Winter’s Tale will always be one of the Bard’s oddest plays, the jealousy fuelled tragedy of the first half replaced by romance and laughter for the second. But cope with the tonal shifts and you’ve got two plays for the price of one, and this strong cast find the best of both. Your exit is unlikely to be pursued by a bear, but is likely to be with a smile on your face.

The Winter’s Tale plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 22 April. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.


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