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The Wars of the Roses: Edward IV

Adapted from William Shakespeare's Henry VI, parts I, II, III and Richard III by John Barton in collaboration with Peter Hall
Rose Theatre, Kingston

Alexander Hanson (Duke of Buckingham) and Joely Richardson (Queen Margaret) Credit: Mark Douet

Part Two of The Wars of the Roses is a helter skelter ride as allegiances change almost by the minute and the crown of England passes backwards and forwards between two men who are polar opposites.

Before getting to that point, Alex Waldmann's Henry VI seems destined to lose his kingdom to opponents from one of several directions. First, the French King Lewis reasserts his claim to his home lands successfully. Then, Rufus Hound playing delusional Jack Cade leads a peasants' revolt that gets as far as London before he is headed off.

The monarch is a kind, regal soul who cares more for literature, religion and his fellow man than power. That is unfortunate when he happens to be married to a Queen, Joely Richardson relishing the role of Margaret, who is so ambitious that she appears kitted out to resemble Millais's famous portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, surely not a coincidence.

While the Queen wants nothing but to see her young son Edward succeed to the throne as soon as possible, the Yorkist faction has other ideas. Following the death of Alexander Hanson in the role of the paternal Richard Duke of York, his sons led by Kåre Conradi as the aspiring Edward IV begin to agitate.

Edward gets help from both Michael Xavier as Clarence and Robert Sheehan, who turns Richard into a likeable, if murderous, rogue.

What follows is barely credible, as a weak King bolstered by a strong Queen regularly swaps the crown with a loutish competitor so stupid that he eschews a diplomatic marriage to the French King's sister in favour of a passion for Alexandra Gilbreath's sexy but powerless widow, Lady Grey.

This not only turns the French against Edward but also brother Clarence and, possibly more influentially in the short term, Timothy Walker playing the man justifiably known as Warwick the Kingmaker.

This play contains some excellent Shakespearean speeches, the best respectively delivered with tearful passion by Richard Senior ("o tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide") and quiet resolve by the King. The latter is a pacifist's charter, embellished by scenes of a son and father, each discovering that they have killed their own father/son.

By the end of the day's second three-hour session, Richard Junior has started scheming against all and sundry and the country is in considerable turmoil following the deaths of more people than one could reasonably name without extending this review excessively.

Once again, the pacing is excellent and the politicking pleasantly broken by stirring war scenes, some enlivened and beautified by strobe lighting.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher