by William Shakespeare
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. In rep to 13 October 2001
Runs 3 hours. One interval.
TICKETS 01789 403403
Review Timothy Ramsden 4 August 2001
Rare chance to see Shakespeare’s cartoon history play, with humour accented.
Two Shakespeare kings receive French ambassadors. Henry V dispatches his with panache. In Gregory Doran’s new production, Guy Henry’s John turns up late, twitches his fingers throughout, then chases after the departing diplomat with the killer line he couldn’t think of in time. It’s typical of a monarch who only thinks short-term.
Trumpets and drums may blaze Corin Buckeridge’s score but the flag-waving is an empty gesture. Even the English throne is a sub-sized wooden chair. No monarch’s worn a crown less fittingly than John; it’s forever rolling off his head. This king needs someone to keep it, and him, in place.Early on it’s his fiercely determined mother Eleanor; Alison Fiske makes her someone you wouldn’t want to argue with over a place in the queue, let alone a country. After her death the king’s minder is the Bastard Falconbridge, illegitimate son of Richard I. At one point the distraught John strokes the bastard’s face; back to the troubled child with mother who makes all well.
In Jo Stone-Fewings’ agile performance the Bastard is not only most faithful of John’s entourage (other Lords defect at some point) he’s a wild card on the battlefield. Afraid of no-one he outpaces Geoffrey Freshwater’s King of France and cheekily pricks the arrogance of Trevor Martin’s Duke of Austria. And he alone goes clear-sighted into the gain game everyone’s playing.
The only adult point of conscience is Trevor Cooper’s Hubert. Unlike John who’ll kick an old man when he’s down, Hubert discovers he cannot kill the sweet child-prince Arthur; by holding pity back till the last moment Cooper keeps sentimentality at bay.
Not that it’s present elsewhere. Everyone, even the papal legate, is out for what they can get. It’s a cartoon history here drawn in vivid, if occasionally lurid, colours.
King John: Guy Henry
Queen Eleanor: Alison Fiske
Blanche of Spain: Victoria Duarri
Earl of Pembroke: Andrew Maud
Earl of Salisbury: Colin McCormack
Lord Bigot/English Herald: Andrew James Storey
Philip Falconbridge, the Bastard: Jo Stone-Fewings
Robert Falconbridge/English Messenger: Joseph England
Lady Falconbridge: Angela Vale
James Gurney/Prince Henry: Tom Harper
Arthur, Duke of Brittany: Benjamin Darlington/Joshua McGuire
Constance: Kelly Hunter
King Philip of France: Geoffrey Freshwater
The Dauphin: John Hopkins
Duke of Austria/Peter of Pomfret: Trevor Martin
Chatillon: Drew Mulligan
Melon/French Herald: David Mara
Hubert: Trevor Cooper
Cardinal Pandulph: David Collings
Soldier: Elizabeth Hurran
Director: Gregory Doran
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Music: Corin Buckeridge
Movement: Jack Murphy
Sound: Martin Slavin
Music Director: Roger Hellyer