March 3, 2008, by Peter Kirwan

Henry VI Part III (RSC) @ The Courtyard Theatre: Highlights

Still full of adrenaline from the ending of the previous part (God only knows how the actors were getting through the day!), I approached Part III with admittedly very high expectations. Happily, they were all met in a fantastic climax to the day.

  • One of my main highlights of this production was Keith Dunphy as Young Clifford. One of the main voices of violence throughout, he was an almost evil presence standing behind King Henry. The calm way with which he folded his coat and hung it over a ladder before brutally stabbing the young Rutland (Alexia Healy’s piercing screams were chilling) was one of the most horrific moments of a bloody proudction. His end, hanging from a rope while the sons of York cut out his eye and tongue, was fitting, and Dunphy’s voice throughout was cold and hard.
  • Jonathan Slinger, in his best performance of the entire trilogy. Richard came into his own in this part, becoming more prominent throughout. Many scene changes were defined by him running to chase ghosts of his father or of Henry that vanished behind closing doors. His entrance wearing Somerset’s face over his own was sickening, his asides throughout chilling, his “I can smile” soliloquy a scary end to the first half. The defining moment of the play came in his final speech to the audience, screaming with hell-defying passion “I AM MYSELF ALONE!” Compelling at all times, he quite literally stole the show with a performance in turns comic and terrifying, a real tour de force. As he jiggled Edward’s child at the end of the play and whispered “Now”, the audience practically rose as one.
  • In the other corner, Chuk Iwuji finished his performance as Henry VI with style. His panicked face as the two sides faced each other, his grief as the Father and Son rolled over each other, mourning, his calm prophecy in the face of his killer all combined to give a picture of a King knowing he is in his final days, dissociated from everything around him but still unable to stop caring. His sadness as his son (played with a youthful dignity by Wela Frasier) talked down to him was transparent, and it was this grief that upset him more than anything else in the tower.
  • Clive Wood as York gave a superb performance in his death scene, weeping over Rutland’s death and utterly broken. As Clifford and Margaret circled him it was impossible not to feel for him, despite everything that had come before. His domestic scene with his four sons was also interesting, showing him in a calmer light than we had previously seen, and Wood did well in portraying a more sympathetic image of the character in his final moments. He then haunted the play- his head atop York city was well done (the actor kneeling behind a ledge and simply tilting it to the side), and his presence was crucial in Clarence turning back to his brothers.
  • A very nice moment after Prince Edward killed recognised the actor’s previous role as the Keeper’s Assistant, as the Keeper (an always effective Antony Bunsee) gave him a bucket of sand with which to cover up the blood he had carelessly spilled over the stage when he died.
  • Julius D’Silva brought his magic to the role of Rutland’s tutor. In a very short amount of stage time, he spoke his passionate defence well and turned to alcohol shortly after, turning up swaying at Edward’s tent in the middle of the night.
  • Margaret (Katy Stephens) was yet again amazing, commanding the stage and becoming the most important military force. Yet Stephens also brought out the strong maternal part of the character, keeping the Prince close at all times and screaming as he was murdered. She bordered on evil at times, particularly in her taunting of York (there was a definite echo of revenge from York’s taunting of her previous incarnation, Joan), but never became a caricature- at heart, she was simply a Queen defending her family.
  • Forbes Masson and James Tucker were both very good as Edward and Clarence. Masson in particular shone when attempting to woo Ann Ogbomo’s Lady Gray, fumbling and eventually resorting to threats in order to get his way.
  • The fighting was visually stunning, as usual, with slow motion battle sequences and ropes falling from the ceiling. Patrice Naiambana’s Warwick shone in these, and his final squealing death marked the end of the real fighting. Naiambana was simply cool, swinging his two swords and tackling several enemies simultaneously. His pathetic end, voice rising to a squeak, was an ignominious end to a character who ultimately never committed to a cause.
  • The final scene, with Edward and Anne trailing their robes through the mess of blood and sand left by Henry’s corpse, was a fantastic image, the new court built on the bloody remains of the old. At the other end, the opening scene, a sudden and loud banging on the doors followed by the bursting onto the stage of the entire Yorkist army, got the blood pounding straight away.
  • Finally, the music was wonderful throughout. Led by Kieran Hill, the Latin chanting was deeply effective, the chimes of death menacing, the loud hollow notes that underscored the battle scenes unsettling and the soft notes that heralded Lex Shrapnel’s Richmond simply beautiful.

It was no surprise that the audience gave the play a standing ovation, as much for the whole day as for the final part. The actors gave astonishing performances all round, all the more impressive for coming near the end of a long week, and the trilogy was epic, moving, beautiful and never dull. Even with Richard III still to come, this was the climax of the whole week.

Posted in Theatre review