Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 24 April, 2001

***** Excitement as the Wars of the Roses begin

Competing factions at Court, a peasants' rebellion and outright battle as the RSC's triumphant four-part production continues.

One of the hardest things to do in any play, but especially in a Shakespearean history play, is to carry off a long passage of "whoops, exposition" the sort of speech that begins "As you know, your father, the king...". Director Michael Boyd uses simple props to keep such speeches moving, as the Duke of York (Clive Wood) lays out pebbles on the ground to show a family tree.  Elsewhere in the tetralogy, bags of bones are used for divination or as a literal reminder of the burden of a departed loved one. The approach is straightforward and starkly powerful.

As in Part 1, the tragedy of the descent into war is balanced by a kind of us-and-them comedy, in this case provided by Jack Cade's Kentish rebellion (memorable line: "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers!"). But the whole thing is carried off wonderfully, and all four parts deserve to be seen. Put it this way: ten days after the official press performances, I saw one of my reviewer colleagues had returned to see the whole series again for pure pleasure. (Due to a sudden, but thankfully not serious, illness that day, I can also vouch for the excellence of the company's understudies.)

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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