The Winter's Tale, Garrick Theatre, London. November 2015.
I had such high hopes for this one, and I'd infected my two theatre companions as well. Okay yes it was another high profile, celebrity, Shakespeare but unlike the ill-fated Hamlet the scrum for tickets hadn't been too bad, and we'd secured them for just £15.
The official reviews for this play had been pretty good, although online regular theatre-goers hadn't been so kind. There had been lots of complaints about the seats and the view too, I wasn't expecting utter comfort as we'd paid so little but this was daft.
The Garrick theatre is a joke, there is no rake to the stalls at all, and to add insult to injury the seats are not off-set and so visibility was, erm....., poor to say the least. In Act One I was lucky enough to have an empty seat in front of me and then a short person in front of that so I could see 70% of the action. My friends did not share this luck, and were too polite to duck from side-to-side so they could see. I think that they were the only people in the auditorium to consider the people behind. In Act 2 the very tall gentleman who'd been sat in front of them moved in front of me, luckily I could move along two seats but then I was constantly swaying from left to right to see around the person in front.
You can already tell I am going to *love* this production can't you...
Shakespeare is not hugely consistent in quality with his last plays and this one is no exception, an example to this is how in one breath Hermione says she is the daughter of a Russian emperor and then in the next breath they are sending off to the Oracle in Delphi to solve their problems...
I loved Act One, the court scene and the emotions shown were wonderful (except Branagh who overacted like he was in a Victorian melodrama), the plot unfolded clearly until just before the interval and then my heart sank right down to my boots.
The Winter's Tale includes the infamous line "exit pursued by a bear" and in this production film of a giant bear roaring was projected on to the back of the stage. It looked so out of place.
It should have acted as a warning, in Act Two the action moves away from the court of Sicilia to the countryside of Bohemia and the distinction between the two was glaring. The stately pseudo-Victorian court had become a mock-Tudor county bumpkin farm and the accents echoed this. On the plus side it was lively and full of music and dance so even if we couldn't see much it was an aural treat.
The denouement of the play all takes place off stage (as it does in the text, see what I mean about it being an uneven play?!) and then we return to the court. Through the power of magic all the unhappy endings from Act One are reversed and we should have a moving and surprising ending (I'm not going to say what, for when it is done right it is wonderful) but by this point we all had such cricks in our necks that we just wanted it to end.
Dame Judi Dench was fantastic to see and hear, she really does make Shakespeare's lines seem like natural modern dialogue, she had real presence and to be honest it was worth £15 just to see her perform. This coupled with my enjoyment of the first act lead me to enjoy our outing more than the others but it wasn't a roaring success.
The final insult to the day was that in the over-priced programme there was a huge feature on how much money they'd just spent on improving the theatre. I think that less gold leaf on the plaster work and better seats could have been a better investment,but hey - at least they've expanded the bar.
I think that I really should learn that I do only enjoy Shakespeare when performed by the Globe, and as they have a new artistic director for 2016 I am getting nervous!