August 10, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Henry VI Trilogy (RSC) @ The Courtyard Theatre


Yesterday was another big ‘event’ day- the entire Henry VI trilogy in one day, starting at 10.30 in the monring and finishing just after 11 at night. And it was spectacular.

I’m seeing the plays again, so I’ll save the detailed comment til then- here I just want to say a bit about the event.

It’s a massive strain for actors, to be on stage for 9 hours, especially in a production that gets as physical as this one. They were given a well-deserved standing ovation at the end, which really summed up the atmosphere of the day- after their penultimate curtain call, the cast re-entered with bunches of white and red roses that they threw into the audience (I got a red one, I was always a Lancastrian at heart).

Playing all three shows back to back brought out all the clever links in casting and in adapting as well. Here’s just a few:

  • In ‘Part 1’ York tortures Joan la Pucelle brutally before her death. In ‘Part 3’, the same actress, now playing Margaret, tortures York in term, so it comes full circle.
  • Talbot and his son, both killed in battle in ‘Part 1’, in ‘Part 3’ become the two men Henry meets who have killed, respectively, their father and their son.
  • The three French lords of ‘Part 1’ reappear in the next two parts as the three sons of York, a different sort of brothers.
  • Ghosts haunt the entire play- Talbot, John, Henry V, York, Winchester, Mortimer and many more reappear to watch over the action, take part and generally cause havoc, most prominently in the capture of Suffolk in ‘Part 2’ where the scene was altered so that it was the ghosts of Talbot and his son who captured Suffolk rather than pirates.

This was the press day, and there were a lot of VIPs in. A fantastic moment in ‘Part 2’, at the start of the Cade rebellion, saw the wonderful Jonathan Slinger and Forbes Masson (I’ve mentioned before how good they are!) dragging a mayor up on stage to go through his pockets, read out his credit cards and generally humiliate pomp and wealth before everyone- all in good fun of course!

The productions themselves are fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to writing in more depth on them. It’s nice to get to an event day every now and again, there’s such a unique atmosphere, and it was definitely worth seeing the three plays together.

Off to ‘The Tempest’ tonight as well! Can get quite tiring, but when I’m enjoying it this much, I can’t really complain!

Posted in Theatre review