The Lion in Winter

 

 

Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

king and queen

Stephen Downing as Henry II with Sandy Tudor  as Eleanor, with wife he has had imprisoned for a decade

The Lion in Winter

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster

****

One might imagine that the writers of Game of Thrones could have taken a fair chunk of inspiration from James Goldman’s 1966 play The Lion in Winter as, all bar the inclusion of excessive adult content and fantastic beasts, there is something oddly familiar about it.

Set at the castle in Chinon, in Anjou, in 1183 an aging Henry II presides over his dysfunctional family during the festive celebrations. His wife Eleanor has been granted a release to attend from her 10 year imprisonment and reflects on their bizarre relationships.

Their three adult sons, all stuffed with more self-importance than a Christmas turkey, are there, each with their own unlovable and disrespectful qualities for their father and each other. Add to this the complexities of a young scheming French king with an uncertain sexuality and Henrys innocent young mistress the Princess of France, who happens to be engaged to two of the Sons, and the scene, is set for a taught web of Christmas family tension to outdo any other.

Goldman’s wit is evident throughout and bristles with intellectual humour, but his study of sibling rivalry and the pain of parenting, although extreme is well developed. It is the combination of the clever biting talk with a backdrop of raging wars, illegitimate children, sex and a suggestion of gay and incestual relationships that gives the play its Game of Thrones overtones.

Stephen Downing did a masterful job as Henry, a man who for no fault of his own, has ended up with his three arrogant children. None of them worthy of his inheritance or the crown and at the ripe age of 50, Henry is finally reduced to seeking an annulment of his marriage to be free to father other potential heirs with a new wife. Mr Downing was very likable portraying the Kings inability to resolve the personalities of his disrespectful sons and his own remaining and past choices.

mistress

Henry II with his mistress Alais, Princess of France, played by Rebecca Williams

Eleanor was played by Sandy Tudor and she possessed an old school Betty Davisesque quality about her performance that made her very watchable. There were some touching moments between Henry and Eleanor when their sarcastic jibes give way to the recollection of their younger years and what the passage of time has done to them.

Richard, the first of their sons, is perhaps the most complex. Played by Joe Harper he manged well his characters changing persona. His best moments were alone with his mother Eleanor that swung from his disparaging brutality towards her to the contradiction of crying in her arms.

Geoffrey is the schemer son played nicely by Tom Rees, deftly plotting to win the throne by shifting his brother’s allegiance in a delicate political game. The third son John, played by Chris Kay, is petulant and scathing, weak and full of self-loathing for just about everyone in his family.

Holding the flag of innocent sensibility and pure love is Alais, Princess of France, played by Rebecca Williams. Her performance was fresh and engaging as the young girl doomed to be the mistress of Henry and contradicted by her engagement to his sons.

Finally we have the Thom Powell as Louis, the Boy king of France, casually walking the tightrope of indifference he finally reveals to the king, the true nature of his disloyal sons.

Sue Downing directs  and must have a had a lot of fun dealing with this bitter family reunion and making sense of the complex relationships they all have to one another.

There’s a nice set by Jen Eglington complete with a Christmas tree, which can be forgiven as they did not appear till Victorian times and the risky but pleasant distraction of Bill the Dog. I was waiting for a Blue Peter moment but in the end he was well behaved 

With Christmas just a few weeks away The Lion in Winter makes a nice chilly start to the festive season and you will be grateful after seeing it that possibly your only family tension is who gets to own the TV remote on Christmas Day. To 02-12-17

Jeff Grant

28-11-17 

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