Review: Henry VI
Venue: York Theatre Royal, July 2013
Medieval history has never been so hot. Ever since the jaw-dropping discovery of a much maligned monarch’s bones in a Leicester car park last year, the people of Britain have been clamouring to learn more about this tumultuous yet fascinating period.
And as the argument continues to rage over the final resting place of King Richard III, London’s Globe Theatre has honoured York’s Theatre Royal with a series of performances of Henry VI, telling the tale of England’s weakest monarch and the bloody civil war known as The War of the Roses his incompetence spawned, a war in which Richard played such a pivotal role.
The play is one of Shakespeare’s lengthiest and most action packed. Split into three different parts (Harry The Sixth, The Houses Of York and Lancaster And The True Tragedy Of The Duke of York) and requiring a good deal of stamina, the audience is given a fast-paced account of the rise and fall of the good-natured but fatally flawed King Henry VI, played by the superb Graham Butler.
Whole decades are squeezed into bite-sized chunks, requiring a good knowledge of the period (ably provided by the excellent theatre programme) to keep up with the dizzying array of battles, usurpations and bloody murders.
Famous figures such as Joan of Arc and Queen Margaret of Anjou put in appearances, as does the ambitious Duke of York, King Richard’s father, whose head once decorated the top of Micklegate Bar following defeat at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460.
The numerous references to our fair city will also do much to warm the hearts of modern day Yorkists, though the cast’s Adam Ant-style white face paint should be reserved strictly for the fanatics.
The undoubted star of the show is a young Richard III, played by the enthralling Simon Harrison, who (like many of the talented and versatile cast) also plays multiple characters.
His menacing presence and dark ambitions – shared with the audience in a chilling soliloquy in part three – provide a tantalising prelude of what is to come. Given Richard’s well-known connections with York and the surrounding area he was always going to be a crowd pleaser in this part of Yorkshire, so it is fitting that The Globe has chosen to bring this production to the city before beginning its official run in London on July 23rd.
Is such a decision an act of support for Richard’s remains to be re-buried in the North? Who knows, but it is a pleasing thought if so.
The decision to end the northern run of the play at Towton, close to the site of one of the bloodiest battles in English history is a similarly inspired, and promises to be both a unique and poignant experience. And it doesn’t end there: this coming November the Theatre Royal will be hosting the next chapter of the tale with a production of Richard III.
Get your white roses and boar badges ready.
- The Henry VI Trilogy continues at York Theatre Royal until Saturday, July 13
- Tickets are £8 to £20, under 18s, concessions, family tickets and multi-show offers available
- For details of performance times and to book tickets, go to the Theatre Royal website