Review: King John, Union Theatre

“Whate’er you think, good words, I think, were best”

Given the ubiquity of productions of Shakespeare’s works in so many of our theatres, and in particular of certain works within the canon, one might assume that those that remain neglected remain so for a very good reason. But director Phil Willmott and the Union Theatre clearly do not agree and after the successful run last year of Double Falsehood, its disputed authorship notwithstanding, they have now turned to a play that was definitely by Shakespeare, but remains very rarely produced in the modern day – King John. They say things come in threes and after having seen Prince John in The Lion in Winter and in the RSC’s The Heart of Robin Hood, it seems apt to seen him all grown up in this play, even if it might as well have been three different people for all the continuity of character!

The play is focused on questions of legitimacy as John acceded to the throne at the expense of his nephew Arthur to control the Angevin Empire whose borders stretched far into France due to the land originally held by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. But he is not a natural-born leader like his father Henry II or brother Richard the Lionheart and his already tenuous hold on his kingdom is further threatened when the King of France throws his support behind young Arthur and demands his abdication. Thus John is driven to increasingly desperate action as battles rage, noblemen’s loyalties waver and to cap it all off, the Pope is displeased and is considering excommunicating him. Continue reading “Review: King John, Union Theatre”