THE Wars of the Roses surge across the stage in the Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour’s tumultuous Henry VI plays, at Bath Theatre Royal until Saturday 28th October – the final night of a tour that started in June.
On the last day, all three plays – Harry the Sixth, The Houses of York and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York – are performed in sequence, a marathon for the actors and a feast for the audience.
Recent discoveries have once again called into question the historical accuracy of Shakespeare’s account of Richard III, and it is in the final two plays of this trilogy that the common view of the crookback king is formed. Simon Harrison’s barnstorming reading of this scheming, jealous and ambitious killer, a childlike smile plastered on his face as he dispatches anyone in his way, promises murders to come.
Nick Bagnall’s production is essentially an ensemble piece, with every one of the 14 actors taking multiple roles. The stage is ringed with drums, bells and thundersheets, so that the sounds of war and triumph can be pounded out by actors not engaged in the immediate action.
The excitement is palpable and the audience might be forgiven in thinking that this powerful trilogy can fill a gap in historical knowledge.
It captures the energy of the shifting allegiances that move the balance of power from side to side like a metronome, with the unfortunate Henry caught like a rabbit in the headlights of politics.
The daubing of red and white paint as the protagonists support first the Lancastrians and then the Yorkists all adds to the tension in this spectacular production.