of the Roses
Written by William Shakespeare
Liverpool Playhouse (25th-29th April 2006)
Northern Broadsides, the Yorkshire based company led by Barrie Rutter
has three offerings on the road at present: Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard
III. These first two are actually the three parts of Shakespeare's Henry
VI split into two. Part of Shakespeare’s historical cycles of English
kings and queens, it depicts the events of a hundred or so years before
his time amidst the warring factions of the Houses of Lancaster and York.
Taken as a whole this cycle was largely successful, with a direct, forceful
approach to the telling of these tales, professed quite justifiably and
seriously in northern dialects, with strong irreproachable acting throughout.
Not that imagination was lacking with ghosts and witches for example portrayed
So to the specifics of this depiction of the parasitic, marauder class
of bandits conventionally titled noble royalty, from the pen of the nascent
English bourgeoisie’s brilliant poet without compare.
We have a weak Henry VI - weakly played for once by Andrew Whitehead
- with a clichéd approach to servility and weakness that was plain
irritating; being manipulated by all around as his father’s gains
in France are squandered and the two houses begin their fight for ascendancy.
Plenty of anti French jokes at the expense of Jeanne D’Arc amongst
others, nothing much has changed I guess. This largely sets up the action,
for indeed as far as drama goes our present day murder mystery writers
could do no better than study plot development here, as murders come in
thick and fast and the House of York seizes the day in Edward IV. We have
ritualised battle scenes, with drumming to go - which I think covered
the ground but didn’t work - and the marvellous Conrad Nelson played
Richard of Glouster (Richard III to be) with malevolent laughter and cynicism.
However, the force of death upon death was not adequately conveyed to
my mind. An interesting ending had the victorious Yorkists at the coronation
of Edward IV; suited up, white, like Liverpool’s famous cup final
debacle of the nineties, and playing jazz music. This was just about justified,
though it bordered on unintentional farce. A new gang was in town - New
Labour if you like - more ruthless than the previous lot.
Finally we were treated to the tour de force of villainy - Richard III
himself - worth watching just for the brilliant hellish descriptions of
our limping friend; ‘Hell’s black intelligencia’ was
my favourite. Was beautiful to watch Richard conniving his way to the
crown, killing all in his path. But you know all’s well that ends
well (sorry) and the natural order of this Elizabethan propaganda piece
must be restored. So no horse for Richard and good king Henry VII brings
in the Tudor legacy and let that be a lesson to you all. But but but why
oh why did they throw all the energy and horror away at the end by evoking
Richard’s battlefield death with the return of the aforementioned
jazz players? I’m sorry but it had a woeful effect, dissipating
all drama for the sake of I’m not sure what. Was a shame but there
you go, all’s well that ends (mostly) well.