The Winter’s Tale
16 February 2023
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
The Winter’s Tale is the first production at the Globe Theatre that utilises both theatre spaces in the building. The play starts in Sicily, in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, where we observe King Leontes, his wife Hermione, and their son Mamillius have dinner with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes. As the actors eat through a very fancy looking menu, and swaps seats around the table as scenes change, this famously hard to categorise play unfolds. With strong elements of a tragedy, large parts of the second acts firmly rooted in comedy, and several love stories spinning around each other, it’s most frequently categorised as a romance, but perhaps it’s just a little too chaotic to firmly fit into any category.
For most of the first act I mostly just regretted buying the tickets I chose, as they were much beyond the “restricted view” advertised. Having only been to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse once before, I thought we’d try out the standing seats in the upper gallery. Sometimes these kind of restricted seats can be really good for the money, but not so in this case.
I’d definitely recommend you steer clear of the standing spaces in this particular theatre, they’re basically “listening only” spaces as you can’t see any of the stage when anyone in front of you leans forward. And as the two rows ahead don’t have great views either, they all do! The rows you stand in are also very narrow and have no footboards, so you’re always in danger of kicking the people sitting in front. Generally definitely not good value for money, spend a few quid more to grab a seat behind a pillar instead, those are definitely easier to look around.
In the second act, we are transported for Bohemia, which is located in the larger theatre in the Globe. It was a bit chaotic to get from one theatre to the other, as they didn’t let people into the yard until after the interval, but made everyone leave the Playhouse theatre, so we were all a bit squished into the foyer with nowhere to go.
Once we were allowed into the theatre and found seats, it quickly hit us how absolutely freezing it was outside. The Playhouse stays quite warm even in frosty weather due to its intimate nature, wooden interior, and the plethora of candles that provide the stage lighting. In contrast, the open air theatre was extremely cold with frosty gusts playing among the patrons.
However, the second act itself was absolutely divine! Imbuing the peddler Autolycus with modern references among his mischievous dealings, and bringing so much joy and chaos to the stage! Of course, this is also the play with one of the most famous stage directions of any of Shakespeare’s works: “Exits, pursued by bear”, which is very much played up into a mad chase across the stage.
The final few scenes brought us back to the cosier Playhouse to finish out the plot. I for one was grateful to be out of the cold and even accepted the very restricted (almost non-existent) view for the last few minutes.
The play was extremely well presented, though I do think some of the main plot bits at the beginning were glossed over a bit too quickly, making it a little difficult to follow the motivations of the characters for those unfamiliar with the story. The added feature of having the audience move from Sicily to Bohemia and back really added to the atmosphere and enjoyability, despite the chaotic nature of how this was achieved.
I would absolutely not book standing tickets at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse again unless they heavily reduce the prices, because there is absolutely no view of the stage. But I’d definitely see this production again from a better seat because it was delightful and extremely entertaining!