We went to see Simon Godwin's very effective production of that strangest of plays The Winter's Tale the other evening, and it's been haunting me ever since. It was the first time I'd found myself sitting in the front row of a theatre, with Paulina's spittle flying over my head in the spotlights as she rounds on Leontes, and making eye contact with Time and the old shepherd -- all three played by the same remarkable actor, Golda Rosheuvel. It was an interesting encounter with the reality and transparency of that theatrical "fourth wall".
After a while, Shakespeare's themes in the late plays can start to seem almost obsessive. Irrational fathers and husbands destroy stability through jealous rages, and in the ensuing chaos children are thrown aside and lost, strange unions and separations occur, and women move determinedly to the centre of gravity, faced with the idiocy of their men. Miracles of art and coincidence bring reconciliation of a sort after long passages of time, but a heavy price is paid, and at the end some bitter outsider is left out in the cold. People have often commented on the parallels of The Winter's Tale with the story of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, but there's surely something deeper, more personally tragic, working its way to the surface here. We'll never know, of course, but sometimes some appalling personal truth seems so very close to erupting out of these plays. Maybe that's part of what has made them so compelling for 400 years. Perhaps one day, a production will be so insightful, so compelling, that the whole Shakespeare phenomenon will be laid to rest, like an exorcism. Not yet though, old mole, not yet.
Meanwhile, here are two flags I found this week, window hunting: