A longstanding desire to see a Shakespeare play in Stratford-upon-Avon, was fulfilled when I managed to snag tickets to a Winter’s Tale at the Courtyard theater in Stratford.
The Avon flows lazily through the town and moored along the banks are rowboats for hire with names like Ophelia and Miranda!
A gnarled oak stands guard in the lawns in front of the theater and the town boasts of charming houses with aged facades and leaded glass windows.
The oldest theater is the Swan, created out of the burnt down shell of the 1879 Memorial Theater. The Swan itself is undergoing major renovations and a complex is being built around it.
The Courtyard Theater is built on the site of the oldest theater in Stratford and mimics a typical Elizabethan theater with an octagonal stage with the audience seating at several levels surrounding it. With near perfect acoustics and an intimate environment, this was the setting for The Winter’s Tale. A “lesser” Shakespeare play that would make an amazing Bollywood adaptation, it goes the gamut of emotions ranging from psychological drama, revenge, comedy, and love to redemption. At the start of the play the King of Siclia, Leontes, is exhorting his best friend Polixenes, The King of Bohemia, to stay in Sicilia for more time, while Polixenes is all set to leave. In the end he is persuaded by very pregnant the Queen of Sicilia, Hermione, to stay. This makes Leontes jealous and suspicious of the exact nature of the relationship between Hermione and Polixenes. In a fit of jealous rage he orders Polixenes killed and Hermione imprisoned. Ploixenes manages to escape, and Hermione gives birth to a daughter, Perdita, in prison. Leontes refuses to acknowledge Perdita as his daughter and she is abandoned in Bohemia, to be brought up by a shepherd. She meets and falls in love with a young man, Florizel who turns out to be the son of Polixenes! An eventual reuniting of two friends, of husband and wife and the two lovers achieves a happy ending for all concerned. The comic relief is provided by Autolycus, the rogue, and a typical Shakespearean “fool” in the form of the shepherd’s son. And yes, there was singing and dancing, quite a lot of it!
The sets were minimal, a Royal chamber with two tall bookshelves filled with books, until a cataclysmic storm was depicted by a crashing of the shelves and a cascade of books showering down!
The play has one of the Bard’s most famous exit lines – “Exit, chased by a bear” as a courtier abandons Perdita and runs! The brooding and angry Leontes was excellently assayed by Greg Hicks, but my favorite was Hermione played by Kelly Hunter. Shakespeare was ahead of his times when he had his leading lady say the following lines:
There’s some ill planet reigns:
I must be patient till the heavens look
With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords,
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
That honourable grief lodg’d here, which burns
Worse than tears drown: beseech you all, my lords,
With thoughts so qualified as your charities
Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so
The king’s will be perform’d!
In the end the play is about the frailty of human nature, about the insecurities lodged within us, but also about the strength of human nature and its ability to recover against all odds.
Filed under: Theater |