Two-thirds of the way through Barrie Rutter’s rollicking reworking of Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses: what a week! So far we’ve had a rompingly quick hack-and-slash through all three parts of Henry VI, in scarcely four hours’ theatre. In places it’s smacked of school play, but then, the whole cycle is a preposterous soap opera anyway, with some characters (poor Clarence, for one) barely sketched out let alone filled-in.
It’s patchy, then, but roll with it and there’s lots to like. Every speech drives the narrative onward, leaving one reeling at the twists and turns of (Rutter’s edit of Shakespeare’s rewrite of) English history. Hell, was this less than six hundred years ago?
Skim over the confusion of retitling the plays ‘Henry VI’, ‘Edward IV’ and ‘Richard III’, for the first two are merely a convenient repackaging of Henry VI parts 1-3; avoid wincing at the moderately awful brass section. Instead revel in the pace and levity, marvel that the tale is hugely entertaining, and admire Conrad Nelson’s emerging Richard.
If you can, see the tour in one of the smaller spaces – Glasgow’s Theatre Royal is a little large, grand, and velvet for what turns out to be a surprisingly intimate production. But do see it. This is Shakespeare in the style of Dynasty, and it’s gripping.
Plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen King Edward play slap bass.