There is a scene leading into the interval in War of the Roses in which the furious Queen Margaret taunts the captured York, in part threatening him with a sword, in part using a paper crown (previously worn by York’s murdered child, Rutland), and in part by blowing her nose on a handkerchief stained with murdered Rutland’s blood. This scene encompasses all that is best, and clearly on show, in these two plays. The power of brilliant language, a dramatically conceived scene, psychological violence, and roles the actors (Minnie Gale and Oliver Alvin-Wilson) can delight in thrilling us in the audience. It is a scene with swagger, beautifully written and performed.
These are early Shakespeare plays, and frequently seen as early and a bit clanky. It is true that Shakespeare is developing his writing skills, but he has much experience as a performer, he knows the business, and he has excellent writing role models around him. Shakespeare writes these history plays because his audiences thrill to them. But what he offers is far from mundane. They may be pageant-like to an extent, but he brilliantly ties up the machinations in characters; they may frequently lack psychological depth (psychological depth will be developed by Shakespeare and others as time moves along), but they are thrilling spectacles. Not cheap thrills, but the excitement we go to theatre for.
Director Owen Horsley has cottoned on to this. With his team, he reveals this story in all its glory and gore with great clarity. The power lies in the acting and the language. Finely tuned use of video, the ‘rising of the dead’, a terrific score, give the production a breath-taking contemporary edge and spiritual and political dimensions too.
The total effect is marvellous – engrossing and informative.
Mark Quartly as Henry VI holds our attention; he is surrounded by powerful characters, but we empathise with him all the way. Minnie Gale as Queen Margaret holds her own in Rebellion but magnificently comes into her own in Roses, a villain we love to hate. Oliver Alvin-Wilson creates a threatening York.
Richard Cant as Gloucester combines dignity, honesty and passion, creating another character we deeply care about. Paola Dionisotti’s Winchester is superb, totally understated, this Bishop is creepy; I would have liked a slightly greater vocal power so that I missed nothing from this highly accomplished actor.
There is much violence, some might call it gratuitous – well let them. It makes for good entertainment which we can both enjoy and be disgusted by. The violence stems from greed for power.
As Arthur Hughes’ Richard (to become Richard III) opens up his plotting to us, we can enjoy his villainy, but when he kills Henry VI with multi stabbings we question our own morality. Hughes’ cool as cucumber Richard is delicious and leaves us eager for the next play Richard III. And we can assure ourselves that, having seen Rebellion and Roses we shall understand it and enjoy it more than ever.
Eat your heart out Game of Thrones; Shakespeare got there ahead of you.
King Henry VI – Mark Quartley
Margaret – Minnie Gale
Gloucester/Lord Saye/King Lewis – Richard Cant
Eleanor – Lucy Benjamin
Winchester/Sir Humphrey/Exeter – Paola Dionisotti
Somerset – Benjamin Westerby
Buckingham – Daniel Ward
Suffolk/George – Ben Hall
Clifford – Daniel Carver
Stafford/Hastings – John Tate
Prince Edward – Sophia Papadopoulos
Clerk/Rivers – Jack Humphrey
York – Oliver Alvin-Wilson
Salisbury – Pater Moreton
Warwick – Nicholas Karimi
Jake Cade – Aaron Sidwell
Young Clifford – Conor Glean
Edward – Ashley D Gayle
Richard – Arthur Hughes
Rutland – Emma Tracey
Elizabeth – Yasmin Taheri
Vernon – Al Maxwell
Lady Bona – Angelina Chudi
Director – Owen Horsley
Set Designer – Stephen Brimson Lewis
Costume Designer – Hannah Clark
Lighting Designer – Simon Spencer
Composer – Paul Englishby
Sound Designer – Steven Atkinson
Movement Director – Emily Jane Boyle
Music Director – Lindsey Miller