The Winter’s Tale at The National Theatre

My first experience of The National Theatre

Was in the mid 90s

I was studying A’level English and Theatre Studies

At secondary school in British Forces Germany

Our teachers brought us to London

For a week of theatre

I wish I could remember all the wonderful shows that we saw

We experienced large theatres, small theatres

Outdoor theatres

Musicals, one man plays

And a stunning performance in the attic of a pub

That was performed in the round

I wish I would remember what it was

All I remember is that it was brilliant

I was desperate to be an actress in those days

Never managed it though

Apart from on the amateur stage

We also had a tour of The National Theatre

And saw a play

On The Ledge

Starring Mark McGann

Mark McGann!!!

My latest trip to The National Theatre

Was with Esther and William

To introduce them to Shakespeare

An adaptation for children

The Winter’s Tale

The play was performed in the round

At The National’s Dorfman Theatre

I had prepared Esther and William for the production

I had told them the story of the play

And highlighted all the main characters

Explaining their links with one another

This really helped us all actually

Doing that bit of groundwork before the show

Helped us to focus on the stunning performances

The creative interpretation and staging

And the beautiful words of William Shakespeare

The story of The Winter’s Tale is this –

In Sicily there is a King, a Queen and their 7 year old son

Their friend the King of Bohemia arrives in Sicily to visit them

Everyone has a wonderful time hunting, feasting and dancing

The King and Queen of Sicily invite the King of Bohemia to stay a little longer

At first the King of Bohemia refuses saying he has important business back in his own Kingdom

But the King and Queen of Sicily persuade him to change his mind and eventually he agrees to stay a few more days


Later that day the King of Bohemia and the Queen of Sicily are laughing and joking together

The King of Sicily sees them and starts to feel jealous

He gets more and more jealous

The King of Sicily calls his servant and gives him a small bottle of poison

And commands him to poison the King of Bohemia

The servant goes to the King of Bohemia

But instead of poisoning him he tells him of the King of Sicily’s plan and urges him to escape

The King of Bohemia escapes taking the servant with him and they sail back to Bohemia together

The King of Sicily is furious when he hears about their escape

The King is still feeling jealous and now thinks that the baby the Queen is about to have is not his

He thinks the King of Bohemia is the baby’s father

The Queen denies it

But the King of Sicily is now convinced that the Queen is having a baby by the King of Bohemia

The King calls the guards and has his pregnant wife thrown into prison


The King’s 7 year old son misses his mother and falls ill

The King then sends a message to the oracle at Delphi to ask the Gods if what he suspects is true

Meanwhile, in prison, the Queen gives birth to a little girl and her loyal servant has an idea

The Queen’s servant takes the baby to the King and shows her to him

Hoping that the sight of the baby will soften his heart and make him change his mind

But seeing the baby only makes the King angrier

The King takes the baby, gives her to his servant and commands him to take the child out of the Kingdom

To a wild and desolate place and leave her there to die

The King’s servant takes the baby and leaves

The King’s messenger returns from Delphi

The gods have spoken

The Queen of Sicily and the King of Bohemia are innocent

The gods also say that there will be no heir to the throne until the King’s lost daughter is found

But the King refuses to believe the prediction

He insists his wife is guilty

A servant comes in with the news that the King and Queen’s son has died

When she hears the news, the Queen faints and has to be taken away to recover

The Queen’s servant brings news to King

The Queen is dead

When the King hears this he is heartbroken, overcome with grief and regrets all the accusations he has made and the things he has done

Meanwhile the King’s servant does not abandon the baby

He travels across the sea with her

When he is asleep on the ship the baby’s mother appears to him in a dream

And tells him to write a letter that tells the story of what has happened and to leave it with the baby

Along with a bag of gold

The servant arrives on the coast of Bohemia

Where he leaves the little baby with the letter and the gold as promised

The servant is chased by a bear

The bear kills him


The baby is left alone on the shore

A shepherd comes by and sees the baby lying there

He picks her up

He finds the letter and the bag of gold

The shepherd raises Perdita

Never knowing who she is

We meet Perdita as a grown young woman

At the start of the play

But not at the start of the story

The play opens with Perdita about to marry a prince

The son of the King of Bohemia

Before she says I do

She reflects on her story

And shares it with us

The audience

Using a large key

Some music and creative lighting

Time is rewound

And the story of The Winter’s Tale is told

Beginning with dancing and rejoicing at THAT party

Where the King of Sicily suspects his friend has been too friendly with his wife

The power of the performances in this play

Suck you in

I could not tear myself away from the faces and voices

Of Hermione

Her servant

And the two kings

Each performance was stunning

Full of emotion

Awesome anger

Enchanting love

Gripping grief

Heartbreaking horror

This production had it all

This modern yet classic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play

Was the perfect introduction for children to the great writer’s works

The vocabulary was unchanged

The lyrical rhythm of the lines

Was perfect

The music

The dancing

The stylised staging

The beautiful singing

The playing of live instruments

The brightly coloured costumes

The comic puppetry

All made something accessible for children

But the director and cast did not shy away from raw emotion

The death of Perdita’s brother was beautifully portrayed

And as a bereaved mother it rocked me to the core

It was sad and haunting

And a strong portrait of a grieving mother

A broken father

A family torn apart

Hermione’s servant was a wonderful actress and singer

I could have watched her and listened to her forever

William hung on every word of the production

Having read the story beforehand he was able to fit all the pieces together

He enjoyed the humour in the production

And the modern direction

The key to turn back time

The house music at the party

Esther enjoyed the performance

But only because we had read the story was she able to follow along

But she loved the beauty of the play

And her eyes never once left the stage

Throughout the production we laughed and cried

And we longed to see Perdita reach a happy ending

This was a wonderful production for adults to enjoy

And to show children a glimpse of the magic of William Shakespeare’s storytelling

Also to show children a glimpse of the treasure that is The National Theatre

Offering wonderful opportunities for families to enjoy quality theatre productions

This was the third NT production Esther and William have been a part of

Their first experience was Peter Pan

Their second The Star Seekers

This, I think, was my favourite

We were given three tickets to The Winter’s Tale in exchange for an honest review


One thought on “The Winter’s Tale at The National Theatre

  1. Ahh this sounds incredible. I love how they have made it more accessible to children without losing the sense of the story. Mine are a bit too young for it yet but I would love to take them to the National Theatre one day.

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