August 20, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Henry VI Part III (RSC) @ The Courtyard Theatre

It’s been a busy week for me in Stratford- ‘2 Henry VI’ and ‘Capulets and Montagues’ on Wednesday, long public transport nightmare trip on Friday, ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ yesterday and today, my second viewing of ‘3 Henry VI’.

I’m quite glad I decided to see the Henries individually as well as the whole day event- they’re very full productions, and I think to fully appreciate all the subtleties and clever decisions it’s far better to see them seperately and enjoy them as individual plays.

So, ‘3 Henry VI’. First and foremost, this was Richard of Gloucester’s play. Even though he doesn’t take centre-stage until ‘Richard III’, Jonathan Slinger held the audience’s main attention throughout this play, from his first entrance wearing an enemy’s skinned face over his own to the finale where he cradled his brother’s new baby and tantatalisingly said, “Now…”, anticipating the opening lines of the next play. His soliloquy announcing his lust for the crown ended the first act, and already he was manipulating the action to his own purposes. Slinger gave a mesmerising performance, full of bitterness and cunning, and truly owned the play.

There was, of course, a lot more action to get out of the way first, and Boyd’s ghosts once more played a major part- this time, it was the ghost of York, persuading Clarence to rejoin his brothers and distracting Warwick in time for Richard to gut him. The Talbots appeared for the third play in a row, this time as the Son and Father who had killed their family members in civil war.

Chuk Iwuji’s Henry was again wonderful, and watching him progress has been one of the highlights of the trilogy- from youthful innocence in Part I to an assertive and passionate young man struggling with corruption in Part II to a religious and world-weary broken man in Part III. Shouted down when he tried to speak, Henry became the only man to truly see what was going on, wandering through the battles as if in a nightmare, watching the death and waiting calmly for his own, exceptionally bloody, one.

Lacking the big comic set pieces of the French court or Cade’s rebellion, this was an altogether more serious companion to the other two plays, and while still fantastic, it is in many ways a long catalogue of deaths, both gory and symbolic. Boyd’s direction still kept it fresh though, raining red and white feathers down on the lost king, trailing blood across the stage behind Edward IV’s clock and giving Richard of Gloucester a tantalising glimpse of Rutland, his future nemesis. Fast-paced and bloody, it’s a great piece by itself and a phenomenal conclusion to what may be the RSC’s towering achievement this season. It received a fully-deserved standing ovation, and Boyd’s cheeky reminder in Richard’s final word that the fourth part is following next year only served to whet our appetites.

I’m seeing them once more in a single day, in September, and I’m very excited to be doing so- these are great productions, and I completely urge people to go and see them, especially while they’re still offering free tickets to under-30s.

Posted in Theatre review