King John Union Theatre 22 January

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The Bastard (Rikki Lawton) gazes at the deceased King John (Nicholas Osmond), who has recently failed to find cold comfort--picture from http://www.kingjohnplay.com

It is shortly after 1200 and we are at war with France. The good news is that we are fighting on their territory and the bad news is that it’s not going very well.  The question is who should be King of England.  King John (supported by his mother, Queen Elinor) is King, but maybe it should be his young nephew Arthur (supported by his mother Lady Constance and various foreigners).

I think the story is about the moral disintegration of King John, who as played here starts off perfectly reasonably and then plots to murder Arthur once he has captured him, which is paralleled by the dissolution of the realm as nobles fall away and the French invade and all of this has to be put right by the Bastard (illegitimate son of Richard I) who both energises the English campaign and relinquishes all thought of power for himself to ensure the succession of King John’s son–so he’s the opposite of King John and has been called into being to repair his misdeeds and restore the realm.

King John does literally call him into being at the beginning of the play when, adjudicating a dispute with his suppositious brother, he bids him arise Sir Richard, and Plantagenet.

We also learn something of the proper behaviour for women:  sweetly retiring and obedient as in Blanche of Spain is good–her marriage to the Dauphin Lewis almost brings peace, while Queen Elinor and Lady Constance almost manage to wreck everything with their scheming and Cardinal Pandulph the Pope’s legate does.  Women should know their place and the Pope should piss off and leave us alone.

The play was presented straightforwardly–there was little choice of course, since in this case the audience didn’t know the story.  Samantha Lawson as Lady Constance first of all attracted attention by being young, black and extremely beautiful and then delivered an outstanding, intense, abandoned performance on a different scale from everyone else.  Otherwise the actors had to be sure to put the story across and didn’t have the richest of Shakespearean material to work with–I thought they put in a very good team effort.

Well done to the Union Theatre for putting on something different and worthwhile, and for making a good job of it!

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