Whilst sitting in a plastic lawn chair in Southmoreland Park, five rows from the front, I begin to sense a tension in the air. Within moments bolts of lightning rush across the sky and thunder rolls through the park. On stage, the King of Sicily, his mind clouded with jealous rage, wrongfully accuses his wife of adultery.
The rain beads on Hermione’s costume as she is brought before the court. Her voice reverberates around the park, mingling with the rumbling clouds, as she declares to her accusers that she is not guilty. The King stares on impassively. Rainfall mingles with tears on Hermione’s cheeks as she is sentenced to life in prison.
When we first arrived, there were over a thousand viewers packed into the park, perched on the edge of their blankets. By this point, though, as the distraught Hermione is escorted from court, at least a hundred have left, wary of the building weather.
At the intermission,the stage crew are restless, their eyes flitting between the bulbous clouds above and the weather app on their iPhones. They are all desperate for the storm to pass, so that the summer’s penultimate production of The Winter’s Tale can go on. The artistic director, Sidonie, is under pressure, and has to make a call within ten minutes – her permit to use the park and the street expires at 11pm.
Meanwhile, eighty percent of the attendees remain planted at the edges of their blankets, umbrellas waving bravely in the breeze, praying for the show to continue. A local mechanic, attending his first ever Shakespeare play, tells us it’s the actor’s commitment to the cause that keeps him here: “It’s the passion; they care enough to be here. You can feel it.” Another woman actually has a strange appreciation for the rain: “It makes us all feel connected,” she says.
“This is why we do it,” says Rusty, the lighting designer, looking out at the viewers. “This is why we wait so long… we wanna do it. We’re here now. We wanna share this story with as many people as possible.” He checks his weather app again, for the second time in thirty seconds. “The joy of outdoor theatre!” he quips.
Nine minutes later, the rain stops. The tarpaulin is whipped from the stage. Stage manager Jenni, her crew, and anyone else with a spare towel get down on hands and knees to dry the stage. Seeing this, the crowd erupts in
The show will go on.
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