HENRY VI TRILOGY
Not a real trilogy, of course, but this pruned and fast-paced sequence makes a fascinating tale of wars, rivalries and rebellions, the Wars of the Roses seen through the young Shakespeare's eyes.
Each play is set against two metal towers – worthy scaffolds, with a wooden throne and dais between. Against the frons scenae of Shakespeare's Globe the effect is somewhat lost – we should be seeing them towering over the battlefields at Towton or Tewkesbury – but they are effectively used to add height and excitement, and even to augment the already deafening percussion which underscores the fight scenes.
This is not a small company, but almost everyone plays many parts and dies a thousand deaths. And, as in The Dresser, everyone is roped in to beat the drum: rebellious Jack Cade cheek by jowl with his king.
Roger Evans' Cade, and his lookalike Suffolk, are splendidly brought to life, crowd-pleasing and rabble-rousing. Also outstanding are Brendan O'Hea [last season's Fluellen] as York, and later an outrageously effete pantomime King of France, and Simon Harrison as the crookback Gloucester, prowling and sneering like Sher without the crutches.
Beatriz Romilly's Pucelle – fierce and impulsive – seems very much at home in this macho world; in Part Two she is a regal Eleanor; in Part Three an aloof Lady Grey. Mary Doherty, whose lovely voice accompanies the funeral procession of the victor of Agincourt, becomes in Part Two the powerful Queen Margaret.
The succession of coups and slaughters comes over as somewhat crude, with all the nobles little better than gangsters or despots. But there are tender moments, too, many of them from Graham Butler's bookish, unworldly Henry. He sits reading while the action goes on around him, he dreams, on his molehill, of life as a simple shepherd. And after all the double-dealing and deception of Part Three, and its bloody battles, he meets his death in the Tower, at the hands of Richard. In a chilling moment, the assassin struggles to free himself from under the corpse of his butchered king, who, in his dying breath, imagines bloodshed yet to come:
… for much more slaughter after this. /O God forgiue my sinnes, and pardon thee.
This is early, unsophisticated stuff, with frequent borrowings, and more than a whiff of the mystery play. More than once we need a lesson on the complex genealogy of the royal line. But this enterprising, and exciting, version is a welcome look at the history, both national and literary, which leads us to Richard III and Bosworth Field.