Henry VI Part 1 Rose Theatre 15 May

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Photo from Robert Piwko Facebook page

I wondered beforehand what kind of space the Rose Theatre was going to be.  The picture above gives some idea:  there’s the normal kind of archaeological excavation with a gallery or walkway around it.   On this side there’s enough space for a few rows of chairs and a playing space, while the corresponding walkway on the far side lets the actors process and display themselves; they can also use the space in-between (water, cement, excavations) for fighting.

In Henry VI the English are about to conquer France for good but are baulked by internal dissension springing from the boy-king failing to exercise leadership on their own side together with the dissolute and treacherous Dauphin and the devil-worshipping, cowardly and promiscuous Joan of Arc on the other.

Well.   The boy overdoes his case there.  The one thing the text does credit Joan and Charles with is acting in the best interests of France.  The combination of a broken sensualist and a delusional prostitute who are nevertheless touched with grace because their cause is just is one that would have worked mightily for a better writer than a different writer from Shakespeare, but here we are focused on intestine strife among the English instead.

I wouldn't be so keen on that red rose if I were you lad (from Robert Piwko FB page)

At the beginning, I was a bit confused because the English were wearing fleur-de-lys patterned stuff as above, which I took to be French.  But the English had red fleurs-de-lys and the French blue, so they were all the same really…The production made effective use of the unusual setting, and I thought that Morgan Thomas was an absolute standout as an efficiently malign Bishop of Winchester, while Oliver Lavery looked highly convincing as the Duke of Gloucester.  I admired what David Vaughan Knight did with the caricature role of the Dauphin as well.

The staging meant that it was very difficult to make out the words of La Pucelle (Suzanne Marie) where she reveals herself to be in league with dark spirits etc etc.  Well they may be embarrassing, but we should be able to hear them and make up our own minds.

My reservation about this show is that I think the text really needs large-scale bling, glorious pomp and circumstance to bring it off–I’m far from sure it’s strong enough to stand unaided in a small-scale production like this one.

But definitely worth a visit!

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