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Passing in and out of favor with audiences and critics, The Winter’s Tale can be something of an enigma. Like many of Shakespeare’s late plays, The Winter’s Tale does not fall neatly into one genre, but rather is a blend. For these reasons this “problem play” has attracted the attention of some of the theatre’s greatest storytellers, looking to leave their mark on Shakespeare’s most bewildering masterpiece.
Directed by Winthrop Ames, New York’s New Theatre
As a young director, famed Broadway producer Winthrop Ames aspired to innovate in his own time by looking to the past. Ames discarded the pretense and convention of the Victorian stage, attempting to recreate an authentic Elizabethan theatrical experience. His bare thrust stage brought the actors to the audience, in simple costumes that would not draw the audience’s attention from the play. Ames’ staging encouraged his audience to engage with the language of the play in a way they had never done before.
Directed by Peter Brook, UK
Peter Brook’s 1951 production is remarkable for the fact that Brook’s production stands, to this day, as the longest uninterrupted run of the play on record with 167 performances. Adding to the significance, he was only 26 years old when he directed it. John Gielgud, already a widely acclaimed stage and screen star, presented a brooding and intense vision of Leontes which became a 20th-century touchstone for the role. The two artists’ reportedly contentious working relationship and the success of the production established Brook as a major director and theatrical theorist.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman, Sweden
Famed for his screen work, in 1995, Ingmar Bergman once again turned his attention to the stage. Attempting to remedy what he saw as narrative irregularities, Bergman chose to create a frame-tale for the play, the dramatic action becoming a masque at a regal birthday celebration. Bergman’s statue scene was defined by Leontes’ profound Catholic repentance and flagellation before a statue of the Virgin Mary, in a mode one might call “Bergmanesque.” His production also included not one but two bears, a brown bear and a polar bear. This production was intended to be Bergman’s theatrical swansong; however, he would go on to direct for the theatre until the very end of his life.
Directed by Michael Kahn, Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company
Michael Kahn was no stranger to The Winter’s Tale in 2002. That staging of the Tale would be his third, after his first at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, in 1975, and another at STC in 1987. Kahn’s 2002 production in many ways revolved around time, and not just thematically. Kahn, building on Shakespeare’s unique dramaturgy, interpolated the character of Time, making it a force that could not be avoided. The 2002 production starred Philip Goodwin as Leontes and Lise Bruneau as Hermione, actors both recently seen on the STC stage in Coriolanus and Wallenstein during the Hero/Traitor Repertory.
Jacob Janssen is STC’s 2013 Artistic Fellow. Before joining STC he worked at The Folger Shakespeare Library and Primary Stages. Jacob holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Wisconsin.