by William Shakespeare.
Union Theatre 204 Union Street SE1 0LX To 11 February 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sun & 4, 11 Feb 3pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876 (no booking fee).
www.uniontheatre.biz (booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 January.
Rough, bold production of rough, bold Shakespeare history.
Odd-man-out among Shakespeare’s histories, King John isn’t part of the 8-play cycle covering the century leading to the Tudor dynasty; nor, like Henry VIII, a collaboration looking-back to the greatness of Elizabeth I. Yet the playwright created something more than others from the troubled reign of a king previously presented onstage as a hero prefiguring Henry VIII in defying the Catholic Church.
Phil Wilmott’s energetically enterprising revival shows Shakespeare well aware of political behaviour within the rough terms of medieval times. Visually, there’s no royal glory; just monarchical insignia fading on a brick wall behind the action, like a notice of last season’s circus.
England and France, John and Cardinal, rival family interests fling barrages of invective across the tables which, variously arranged and upended, comprise the minimal set, as modern politicians might row across a dispatch box. While cloaked figures hurry down the aisles, or Maggie Daniels and Samantha Lawson vituperate across tables like neighbours arguing angrily over the garden wall, giving as good as they get in their own interests, and Nicholas Osmond’s John disguises cruel plans in a smiling soundbite, Wilmott shows there are three alternative voices.
There are the quiet voices of innocent youth: Blanche, married-off for political convenience, and Arthur, a boy played by young adult Albert de Jongh, emphasising by his shrinking, trembling turning away from conflict the vulnerability of innocence.
Then John Last as the rare conscience-driven characters; the citizen of besieged Angers who offers a peaceful solution from the city walls, aptly making him the only person to use the tables’ higher level; then as Hubert, avoiding John’s order to main Arthur in an horrific foretaste of King Lear.
And, notably, Shakespeare’s wild-card; the Bastard Faulconbridge, who surrenders his own family dispute to follow the court and perceives the commodification of life among the higher echelons. Rikki Lawton takes fierce delight, prefiguring Lear’s Fool, in his biting comments.
It may be the abstract setting makes tough viewing in the final swirl of scenes, after the focus has left Arthur’s fate, but Wilmott and his cast do more than well-enough by the play.
King John: Nicholas Osmond.
Eleanor/Lady Bigot: Maggie Daniels.
Prince Henry: Sebastian Foux.
Blanche: Daisy May.
Philip Faulconbridge: Rikki Lawton.
Robert Faulconbridge: Leonard Sillevis.
Earl of Pembroke/Archduke of Austria: Ross Ericson.
Hubert/Citizen of Angers: John Last.
Philip of France: Damian Quinn.
Lewis: James Corscadden.
Arthur: Albert de Jongh.
Constance: Samantha Lawson.
Chatillon: James Robinson.
Cardinal Pandulph: Michael J Hayes.
Director: Phil Wilmott.
Designer/Costume: Emma Tompkins.
Lighting: Jason Meininger.
Sound: Giles Thomas.
Movement: Clare McKenna.
Assistant directors: Jemma Cross, Melissa Lust.