The Winter's Tale is the latest show in 30 years of stunning, large scale outdoor performances from Teatr Biuro Podróży. Their focus on social and political themes flows dramatically into this powerful production about delusional jealousy and its terrible consequences.
I saw this show in Coventry last October. It was part of the Festival of Imagineers, an annual showcase of art, design and engineering which includes a focus on the outdoors. There was a particular buzz in the air at the time, as Coventry made the final preparations in its bid to be UK City of Culture. A few weeks later, it was announced as the winner for 2021.
I'd gone to Coventry that day to see a number of shows in the festival. But the main attraction for me was to see the first performance of Teatr Biuro Podróży’s new show, The Winter's Tale. The company has collaborated with this festival for 20 years so if it were not to be in their home town of Poznan in western Poland, Coventry was a fitting location for the premiere of this show.
If you saw their previous show, Silence, at Bell Square in September 2017, you will know that Teatr Biuro Podróży has a highly visual, dramatic style. And The Winter's Tale is no exception - this is big drama!
If you're not familiar with the story of The Winter's Tale, you can read a summary here. But essentially, the show tells the story of a jealous King who mistakenly suspects his wife of having an affair with his lifelong friend. Ignoring everyone around him, he insists she is tried for treason and put to death. (It does lighten up a bit after this - and actually wraps up with a happy ending!)
The production is stunning to watch. Teatr Biuro Podróży's huge stilt walkers lead us through the streets with the Queen's coffin. Their white make-up and long white costumes lend a ghostly presence, with the startling red ties perhaps suggesting spilt blood. Led by the stilt walkers, we follow and become part of the funeral procession.
Similarly, when the Queen is found guilty of treason, we are the crowd at the public trial, shouting out - 'guilty' or 'not guilty'. As a member of the audience, I felt completely 'in' this performance, absolutely a part of it. This is really immersive theatre, made all the more potent by experiencing it in the streets at night.
When I saw the show in Coventry, it lashed with rain throughout the entire performance. The company carried on, and the audience was too hooked to leave. Somehow, it just added to the drama.
I remember getting home from Coventry, still drenched, at 2.00 in the morning. Looking back recently at the notes I made on the train home that night, the last comment I had written was, 'It would be amazing to have this in Hounslow!'
So, I can't wait for 6 October - and I really hope you enjoy this as much as I did when I first saw it last year!
The Winter's Tale, by Teatr Biuro Podróży, starts at 8.00pm on Saturday 6 October at Bell Square.
Let us know what you think about it on social media using the #BellSquareLDN hash tag