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Third time lucky? Inside the RSC’s much-delayed Winter’s Tale

Bedevilled by lockdowns and brain-bending Covid protocols, the Shakespeare play about isolation, grief and fresh starts is finally being staged and emotions are running high. We join the dress rehearsal

The atmosphere in the Royal Shakespeare theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is a little emotional. The cast are dress rehearsing the final scene of The Winter’s Tale. The wronged heroine, Hermione, has somehow been brought back from the dead, her jealous husband has realised the error of his ways, and the couple have been reunited with their long-lost daughter. It’s perhaps the most famous – if improbable – fairytale ending in Shakespeare. As the lights come up, I think I spy the eyes of one of the crew looking a little red. Blame the face mask.

What makes the moment especially charged is that, in almost every sense possible, it has been a long journey to get here. When Covid-19 forced the first lockdown last March, the company were days away from opening this very show; within less than a week, not only had it been indefinitely postponed, but the RSC’s plans across several continents were in pieces too. There was a proposal to bring it back to life late last autumn, only to run straight into another lockdown. The current intention is to perform The Winter’s Tale for broadcast on BBC Four later this month, with all of the original cast and as many of the original crew as can be reunited.

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