Welcome to Day 4 of the 12 Plays of Christmas. Day 4 is the Feast of Holy Innocents – commemorating the children killed by King Herod. So I have selected one of my favourite plays, which includes an attempted baby killing, “The Winter’s Tale”.
“The Winter’s Tale” was the first major I directed that picked up awards at the National Finals of the Sheillah Winn Festival of Shakespeare for the SGCNZ. And I do love a problem play.
The first part of the play is a brilliant tragedy- Leontes is jealous of his Queen Hermione, and decides that the baby she is heavily pregnant with was clearly that of his friend… so he sentences them both to death. When this happens, the King’s son Mamillius falls from a balcony and dies. Fortunately Paulina saves Hermione as a statue, and the baby Perdita is saved by Antigonus by sailing to Bohemia, where she is raised, falls in love with a Prince, and eventually returns home to discover her father is Leontes, and she can marry the Prince afterall. At the final section, Hermione is restored from the statue to life, Leontes is repentant all this time, and Perdita has her family back. The only real tragedy is that of the boy Mamillius.
Performing “The Winter’s Tale” has some awesome bits. Play the first part as the tragedy it is, ending on the death of the son, a bloody Hermione begging for her life, and Leontes rejecting a new born baby. Or play the comedy in Bohemia, with songs, shepherds, and falling in love – perfect with a festival vibe.
One of my favourite sections is that of Time, who comes forward with a monologue changing the sequence from tragedy to comedy. The introduction of this magic in the middle foreshadows magic at the resolution, and is a bit of fun right at the point where all looks lost.
I also love how this play has interesting women. Hermione is charismatic, strong, honest and determined. Paulina is strong, magical, quick thinking, and stands up to the King. Perdita is fun, steadfast, determined and kind. These are all well written and interesting to play. One of the small twists I put on the play was to have Perdita fall for a woman (rather than a man) adding another element to why they couldn’t marry in Bohemia.
And if you are interested, here is the dress rehearsal of our award winning entry (back well before it was award winning sorry… our final performance seems to have been lost to time).