Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 24 April, 2001

The RSC's "This England" production of Shakespare's eight major history plays reaches a climax in a triumphant four-part production.

Michael Boyd has staged all three parts of Henry VI together with Richard III with a unified power and vision; it's not going too far to describe it as sensational. Of course, you can see any of the parts separately, but even then it's impossible not to feel the cumulative dramatic impetus which the enterprise has gathered by this point.

The controversy over casting a black actor as King Henry is entirely irrelevant to David Oyelowo's excellent performance; even in Henry's melancholy madness, Oyelowo makes him both lucid and sympathetic. Fiona Bell as his warrior-queen Margaret of Anjou is perhaps a little too steely and villainous until, vanquished, she is told that she is to be left to live with her losses, at which point Bell implodes magnificently. Aidan McArdle's Richard of Gloucester grows in wickedness throughout the play, which ends with the stark image of him cradling the future Edward V in his arms whilst standing in King Henry's blood; McArdle, of course, comes fully into his own in the following play. If you thought Shakespeare's histories were boring, these productions will cure you utterly.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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