Sad Tales for Winter

I like Renaissance tragedy as much as the next person (probably more than the next person) so it’s exciting to see the announcement of the 2014/15 Winter season at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: lots of tragedies to fill that small, candlelit space. The list includes what I am contractually obliged to refer to as two ‘stone cold classics’: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Changeling, but there’s also a production of Ford’s rarely-seen The Broken Heart, and Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage will be performed by the Globe Young Players. But that’s a lot of tragedy, even for me! The successful production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle, which I reviewed here, will also be revived and comes highly recommended, but I can’t help but feel that the Globe might have offered a slightly more balanced programme. In the first season, we were offered a tragedy, a comedy, and a tragicomedy: this time round, it’s pretty much tragedy all the way.

Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful (too late for that, you might think). I can’t fault the choice of ‘Tis Pity and The Changeling: these are wonderful plays, it will be great to see them (I’ll make sure I book early this time, as I missed The Duchess of Malfi) and they look like guaranteed hits for the Globe. I’m really intrigued to see The Broken Heart too: it’s a fine play and not one we’ll get many chances to see; it’s great that the Globe are happy to take a chance on a play like this. I must admit, I’m less enamoured with the choice of Dido for the Young Players: this play was performed, not all that long ago, by the Edward’s Boys; it’s seems a shame to me to do another production when there are lots of other plays that might have been chosen (and it might have been nice to have had a comedy).

The preponderance of tragedies in the Winter season does seem a bit of a shame as it perhaps implies that the Globe have decided that tragedy is the ideal genre for the venue. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, two other tragedies, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, are also being played indoors this summer. I’ve still yet to see a tragedy there and it may be I’ll be blown away by the new productions, but the first season suggested that comedies could work equally well indoors. It would have been nice to have seen, for example, some Lyly, or some more Marston; or to see a tragicomedy like A King and No King. It may be, of course, that there will be more variety in future seasons and that’s entirely understandable: they can’t do everything at once! It’s important, also, to recognize the commercial impulses at work: a season of obscure plays might represent too great a risk. It’s notable that they haven’t decided to give an extended run to an indoor Shakespeare production, which is quite brave, I think (though I’m sure it will be worthwhile to do this in the future). I’m griping, I know, and I probably shouldn’t: I’m thrilled to see these plays and I’ll hope to attend everything. It’s extremely encouraging to see that the Globe are putting faith in the wider Renaissance repertory. 

3 thoughts on “Sad Tales for Winter

  1. They are choosing to make the SWP into a venue for non-Shakespearean plays. Since it is a small house, they don’t really need to worry about scheduling “popular” plays. At this point, it seems virtually anything they put up there will sell out, even if people are only going to see the venue.
    Oftentimes people view tragedies as more worthy or more important than comedies It may be people would feel a bit cheated to pay for an expensive seat and see a light comedy.
    Of course, tragicomedies are the genre most closely associated with “the move indoors.” The Changeling, with its 1622 date, was probably written with the indoors in mind. We think of it as a tragedy (for good reason), but the subplot is tragicomic/comic.

  2. Yeah, I agree, but from what I can tell Pestle was a big success for them last time out, which is presumably why they are reviving it. I think they proved last time that the comedies can do good work in that space and the audience received Pestle well. I think on the whole audiences may be conditioned to view tragedies as more worthy, but comedies are often appreciated too. There’s plenty of time in the future for more comedies and tragicomedies though and it’ll be really interesting to see what they do in the future. I find the whole business of selecting plays really fascinating.

  3. Check. The Mamilius quote alluded to in your title really is relevant. I have found a distinct tendency for venues (especially outdoor venues) to lean toward comedies in the summer, which naturally pushes more tragedies into the winter season.

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