By James Goldman
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket
Date: Thursday 19th January 2012
We were a bit closer for this one than we like – Row B – because we didn’t book early enough. Even so, we had a good view of the action and heard every word, which made for an enjoyable afternoon. Unfortunately we also heard the mobile phone right behind us, and it was at a bad time (there’s a good time?) when Eleanor had just cut her arm. It’s all a ploy to manipulate Richard into giving her what she wants, so nothing to worry about, but the effect was spoiled by the ringtone. Anyway it’s a good old workhorse, this play, and this was a better than average production with some very good performances and a lot of humour. It’s mostly in the first half, true, but there’s still fun to be had in the second half, including one of the best lines – ‘all families have their ups and downs’; in context, it was hilarious.
This play is the archetypal family-from-hell Christmas. Everyone is plotting against everyone else, with the possible exception of Alais, and if I didn’t know the history I would have expected dead bodies to litter the stage. The bickering does get a little tiresome towards the end, but this cast kept our attention all the way through. I really enjoyed Joseph Drake as Prince John; we enjoyed his Nijinsky last summer at Chichester, and this snivelling Prince made a nice contrast.
The set was quite elaborate, making use of two revolves to change the scenery. They had small apartments for intimate gatherings, a larger reception area with a huge Christmas tree – the anachronisms were deliberate – two bedrooms and a wine cellar, all created with the minimum of fuss. I particularly liked the scene in the French King’s bedroom, with two Princes hiding behind the tapestry, another in the four-poster screened by the curtains, and King Henry himself knocking on the door to have a word. The costumes were mock mediaeval, in keeping with the setting, and worked very well.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me