Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Theatre Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)

“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”

First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in. 

Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Theatre Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”

Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston

“Every tale condemns me for a villain”

Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed. 

Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.  Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston

“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”

Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending. 

With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other.  Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston

“Between the red rose and the white 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”

Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.

And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: State Red, Hampstead Downstairs

“I’m a black man shooting other black man for a living”

Whoop whoop, that’s the sound of da police, or at least a whole lotta police-related drama at the Hampstead Theatre, both upstairs and down. In the main house, Roy Williams’ Wildefire is examining life in the Met from the street level whilst downstairs, Atiha Sen Gupta makes a long awaited return with State Red, another new play looking at institutionalised racism in the force (and society at large too) right up to the highest level of Police Commissioner and asks just how far we’d go in the name of family.

White, living in Muswell Hill and in his 50s, it seems Richard is a shoo-in for the job. 36 years of service, a mixed marriage for the diversity card, schmoozing with all the right people, the only fly in the ointment is the return of his son Luke from a year AWOL after an incident at work. For he’s a copper too and after shooting a black unarmed teenager dead, has suffered something of a breakdown. With the inquest fast approaching, he’s threatening to smash through the party line with his own version of events even if doing so would ruin his father’s prospects. Continue reading “Review: State Red, Hampstead Downstairs”

DVD Review: Wilde

“It is monstrous how people say things behind one’s back that are perfectly true”

Based on Richard Ellman’s biography, Brian Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde saw Stephen Fry take on the eponymous role in a sweeping biopic slash drama which stretches over the last 18 years of his life. Beginning with his return to London from a trip to America and ripping speedily through his marriage to Jennifer Ehle’s kindly Constance and the birth of their two children, it is his relationship with family friend Robbie Ross that leads him into a world of sexual discovery. He finds there Jude Law’s impossibly handsome Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas and falls head over heels into a tempestuous relationship, but in a society where homosexuality is illegal and propriety is everything, a happy ending is far from likely.

Fry makes an appealing Wilde, though one shorn of much of the acerbic nature one might imagine he had, he is a gentle father – telling his own story of The Selfish Giant acts as a clever layer of extra commentary – and he brings an almost avuncular warmth to the part. Jude Law’s Bosie is a revelation though, a serious reminder of his talents as an actor, with a capriciousness that is seductively alluring and yet criminally irresponsible. As Wilde seeks to lay the blame at the door of Bosie’s domineering father the Marquess of Queensbury, he ignores the knife-edge that their relationship is balanced on with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wilde”

Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre

“I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you”

It really is a good time to be an Arthur Miller fan in London: All My Sons is receiving rave reviews at the Apollo Theatre and now you can see The Crucible at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in a chilling new production of a play.

The Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts are shocked when a group of their young girls are caught dancing in the woods and one of them falls into a coma. Accusations of witchcraft soon start to fly and as the hysteria mounts and a full-blown witch-hunt ensues, vendettas about land and money, and also of the heart, are pursued sub rosa as events snowball to a shockingly brutal conclusion. The struggle between truth and righteousness, between protecting self-interest and rising to the need of the greater good, is personified in the Proctor family, John and Elizabeth. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre”