At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, it seems like you can’t just put on a Shakespeare play these days without striving to make it relevant. Admittedly, when so many of his works concern themselves with civil unrest, it’s not too much of a stretch to reference our current fractious political landscape.
Directed by Sean Holmes and Ilinca Radulian, this gaudy modern-dress production — all sequins and alligator-skin, nylon tracksuits and three-piece velour suits — at first seems a little off-kilter with the Elizabethan-style candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Theatre. Looking closer though, the costumes are adorned with wry details: embroidered white and red roses, a football kit with ‘Richard 03’. These nods are clever and work to strengthen the gender and colour-blind casting of the production: in a materialistic world where presentation is everything, you simply are what you wear.
Characters are largely driven by vanity: Sarah Amankwah’s Eleanor is potently ambitious (and Amankwah has a voice you could listen to all day). John Lightbody’s many deaths never fail to raise a laugh and Jonathan Broadbent’s overgrown boy-king is pleasingly simpering.
The text for this play is a smushed-together version of parts II and III of the Henry VI, but it’s easier to see why it’s so rarely performed — much of it is quite tedious despite the abundant violence. The last third is easily the most exciting — Sophie Russell plants the seeds of a dastardly Richard III to follow.
With a run-time of over three hours, it’s a heroic feat for the 10-strong cast, especially given the concurrent production of Richard III. You also have to admire the bravery of a cast decked out in exclusively synthetic fabrics in the vicinity of so many naked flames.
Henry VI, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT. Tickets from £10, 30 November 2019-26 January 2020.
Last Updated 22 November 2019