1/2/3 Henry VI, The Globe, 25 August 2013
Harry The Sixth
The set arrived late from Barnet, where the productions had been live streamed the previous day. Early groundling arrivers could therefore hear the sound of power tools bolting together the aluminium frames of the two towers that stood either side of a tall-backed throne.
The cold and rain of the previous day-long performance meant that several of the cast were quite hoarse during this day’s three-play marathon.
Drums were placed on stage and were played by the fourteen members of the cast. This modestly sized company resulted in much doubling.
Henry V’s black coffin was carried through the yard by pall bearers as Mary Doherty sang to the beat of funereal drums (1.1). Graham Butler’s Henry VI, dressed in a long blue gown, led the procession onstage. He was escorted to the throne by Protector Gloucester.
And there he sat until he spoke his first words in act three. He spent much of the intervening period reading the Temple Shakespeare edition of Hamlet, a play about a young man who shies away from decisive action. This suggested a connection between the ineffectual young king and Shakespeare’s tragic hero. It also created the intriguing possibility that Henry identified with, or was inspired by, the Danish prince.
Gloucester (Garry Cooper), with his grizzled weather-beaten face, world-weary demeanour, and staff of office, bickered with gruff, bearded Exeter (Nigel Hastings) and the Bishop of Winchester (Mike Grady). Henry, with his fresh, clean-shaved face sat and read. This contrast emphasised that the state was in the hands of grown men who completely overshadowed a youthful king. Gloucester invocated the ghost of Henry V, considering the dead king to be more potent than his living son.
Mary Doherty appeared as a female messenger. Her frequent presence, sometimes in male roles, prepared us for her subsequent appearance as the key character of Margaret. This also created a parallel: just as Henry was present while supposedly absent, so was Margaret. The messenger brought news of losses in France, resulting in Exeter taking 10,000 soldiers to quell the rebellion.
There was a particularly tender moment as Gloucester held Henry’s cheek with great affection, saying that he would proclaim him king.
Over in France, Charles (Simon Harrison) climbed down from one of the towers as the French tried to raise the siege of Orleans (1.2). Contrasted with the English, he was a faintly ridiculous figure who always seemed out of his depth.
The lid of Henry V’s coffin was opened and swords were taken from it. The French faced the audience and engaged in a slow motion sword battle. Their attack was repelled by the English to the accompaniment of yet more drums. The coffin was moved and set up as a wall. The English also took swords from the coffin as they prepared to fight.
The Bastard of Orleans (Joe Jameson) was characterised as a posh boy. He told of Joan La Pucelle who was going to raise the siege and drive out the English. Beatriz Romilly played Joan in a Hull accent, which neatly underscored her lowly origins compared to the French nobles. Interestingly, she was virtually the only French character who was not at any point played for laughs. Beatriz Romilly, as her name suggests, had a vaguely Mediterranean look that could pass for French.
Joan was handed a sword by Mary Doherty, another moment that heralded her future warrior role. Joan fought and beat Charles, who comically threw himself at her feet. Joan passionately ordered the French to fight the English.
The stage left tower represented the Tower of London, which Gloucester tried to enter but was kept out by order of the Bishop, who stood inside the tower (1.3). More swords were fetched from the coffin and used to strike the metal structure. Mary Doherty appeared on the stage right tower as the Officer who ordered the rioters home.
Gloucester climbed the structure and confronted the Bishop face to face. At this point, as his uncles became embroiled in a loud dispute, Henry sat up and scrutinised them with the distressed expression of a child watching his parents argue.
A sequence of battles took place in France. Shirtless Talbot (Andrew Sheridan) washed his face before dressing to fight alongside Salisbury (Roger Evans), who was killed by an arrow carried slowly through the air by Mary Doherty (1.4). Henry looked up from his book to watch. Mary Doherty appeared again as a messenger bringing news of the onward march of Joan’s army. Henry sang as Talbot vowed to fight.
The French advanced and Talbot deftly ducked between them before swinging his sword to send the French flying (1.5). But he lost his fight against Joan. She posed confidently in a wide, forward-leaning posture, bouncing her hips in supple preparation, before finally overcoming the Englishman. She shouted at him in victory and kicked Talbot down the steps into the yard.
After the siege of Orleans had been raised, Charles dotingly offered to marry Joan (1.6). But victory was short-lived as Talbot and Burgundy (Nigel Hastings) climbed the towers to retake the city (2.1). Charles’ affection now turned to anger at Joan for the French defeat, which she in turn blamed on the watch.
Burgundy and Talbot stood on the towers, as Salisbury’s coffin was brought in bedecked with flowers (2.2).
Scene 2.3 was cut, the action continuing with the Temple Garden meeting between the rival factions who disputed whether Richard (Brendan O’Hea) should be restored to his status as Duke of York (2.4). The red and white flowers that became emblems of the rival houses were plucked from Salisbury’s coffin. Mary Doherty played Vernon, who backed Richard Plantagenet.
Richard visited Mortimer (Nigel Hastings) in jail (2.5). The shabby grey-hooded prisoner explained how Richard was entitled to claim the crown. This lengthy monologue was rendered as an extremely well textured piece of exposition, whose pace and emphasis added interest to what could have been a dry historical essay.
Mortimer died and Richard stroked the back of his head, cupping it as he laid him out on the coffin. Mary Doherty appeared again to escort the dead Mortimer away as she sung a funeral theme.
The coffin then became Mortimer’s coffin, which was carried off (3.1).
Hinting at his imminent insertion into the play, Henry donned his crown to watch the dispute between Winchester and Gloucester. He fiddled nervously with his fingers before exploding “O, what a scandal…” in a child-like tantrum.
This outburst could be seen as the release of all the pent-up frustration that had been brewing within him through his entire onstage presence since the start of the performance.
He ordered the brawlers to resolve their dispute, but did so ineffectually, eventually asking his uncle Gloucester to sort matters out. His first action within the play was characterised by immaturity.
This lack of maturity could be seen again when Henry hid in the corner with his head in his hands and howled before expressing his anger that his uncle Beaufort would not make peace.
When a truce was agreed, Henry skipped up and down with joy and returned to his throne and his book.
Henry was also boyishly keen when granting Richard’s petition and restoring him as Duke of York, clumsily placing a sword and scabbard over his neck before bidding him rise.
Gloucester advised Henry to travel to France to be crowned, which Henry gleefully accepted purely on the strength of his uncle’s recommendation. He spoke the phrase “Friendly counsel cuts off many foes” as if it were a motto he had learned. His grasp of statecraft was merely a collection of aphorisms.
The town of Rouen was fought over (3.2). Joan and her troops sneaked in disguised as peasants and vaunted their victory by ascending the tall towers. Talbot and Burgundy climbed the sides of the throne and swore to retake the town. The return match consisted of the English striking the metal framework of the towers with their swords until the French fell out and the English re-ascended.
Joan rallied the French and then enticed Burgundy to join them (3.3). He posed haughtily on the tower but was then won over almost comically. Joan sat on the ground facing the audience and spoke emotionally about the “pining malady of France”. She rose and told Burgundy about his enemy, the Duke of Orleans, being released.
His interest aroused, Burgundy descended to the stage. Joan, backed by the other French, reached out her hand calling on him to “Come, come, return”. With a simple “I am vanquished” Burgundy relented. The implicit comedy of this moment soon became the explicit comedy of Joan remarking that this change of allegiance was “Done like a Frenchman: turn, and turn again!”
Henry was led off the throne by Mary Doherty at which point the interval came.
The coronation of Henry VI in his ermine was interrupted by news of Burgundy’s defection to the French (4.1). Henry reacted still very much like a child as he expressed his disappointment that “uncle Burgundy” had turned against him. He fiddled with his fingers and encouraged Talbot to talk Burgundy round.
Henry sought to diffuse the rose dispute by making York and Somerset (David Hartley) sit by his side. York was appointed regent and Somerset was obliged to join forces with him. In this Henry was hopelessly optimistic.
Crucially for subsequent developments, Exeter noticed that York was angrier than he had let on.
Scene 4.2 was cut, so that the performance continued with the scenes showing the build-up of tension between York and Somerset. With Henry back on his throne, York became annoyed that Somerset not supplied him with troops (4.3). Somerset’s faction blamed York for the disappearance of Talbot in battle (4.4).
As their enemies drew closer, Talbot urged his son (Joe Jameson) to flee, grabbing him by the neck (4.5). But son John thought this dishonourable and argued back until the pair were wrestling on the ground. Mary Doherty placed a sword belt around John’s neck and Talbot left him to fight on.
The battle sequence in scene 4.6 was cut. Mary Doherty simply escorted John away to indicate his death and turned Talbot round to begin his impassioned speech about the death of his son (4.7).
His tearful invocation of “My Icarus, my blossom” was very moving and gained by not following a distracting battle sequence. Mary Doherty led John onstage by the hand and laid him by Talbot’s knees as he crouched and caressed him. The whole cast sang as Talbot reclined to rest the back of his head on his son’s chest before expiring himself.
Henry came forward and took both of them by the hand. They rose and exited at opposite sides of the stage. The remainder of the scene showing the victorious French was cut.
This left Henry ready for his meeting in Parliament (5.1). The fact that he had been dramatically present at the deaths of Talbot and his son, underscored his acceptance of the pope’s request for peace with France. To seal the deal, the Earl of Armagnac’s daughter was offered in marriage.
Henry was very nervous about the prospect of a “wanton dalliance with a paramour”, but consented if this benefited the country.
Winchester was now a cardinal. Henry gave the Ambassador a jewel to give to his fiancée. The scene ended on a sour note as the newly appointed Cardinal twisted the female Legate’s wrist as he ordered money to be given to the pope as recompense for making him Cardinal.
Charles received news of the Paris revolt, and then a messenger told of the English advance. Joan encouraged Charles to give battle (5.2).
Joan was defeated at Angiers (5.3). She made a circle with her sword and lay on her back in the middle to call on her spirit helpers. They appeared to her but were invisible to us. She sat up and reached out her hand with a hopeful expression, but they would not assist her. She pleaded with the invisible presence, her face expressing her despair as they abandoned her. She sat and sobbed realising that France was lost to the English.
This childlike vulnerability and disappointment briefly made her analogous with the king.
York found and fought with her. Despite her fieriness and determined shriek, he overcame and disarmed her. After an exchange of bitter words he dragged her away by the collar.
Suffolk (Roger Evans) took Margaret prisoner and took an immediate fancy to her. He initially blocked her exit, let her go, but called her back, creating a moment of comedy as he debated with himself whether or not to pursue her amorously. He wanted to make her queen to forge a peace, but also wanted her for himself. Hence his brief slip when he told Margaret he wanted her for “my… his love”.
Margaret’s father, Regnier (Patrick Myles), spoke from the tower before descending to approve the match, provided that his control over his territories was not challenged. When this was agreed he gave Margaret a comical thumbs up. Suffolk stole a kiss from her, which she found outrageously forward.
Prisoner Joan was sent to execution with her arms tied in ropes (5.4). Her father (Garry Cooper) appeared in the yard and she denied being his daughter, after which he rejected her. She shouted condemnation of the lusty and viceful, proclaimed herself a virgin, but then muddied the waters by claiming to be with child in order to escape execution. She strained at the rope that bound her as she cursed York, but was dragged away.
York complained about the “effeminate peace”, when told of it by Cardinal Winchester. The French arrived to formalise the truce. Charles had to acknowledge Henry as his king and serve as viceroy, a proposal he initially rejected until talked round by the other French.
Henry became excited at the description relayed to him of Margaret (5.5). But Gloucester was annoyed that this new arrangement meant breaking his previous troth. The parties argued about Margaret’s relatively low status, with Suffolk quite happy to promote a love match with Margaret. The giddily happy Henry welcomed Suffolk’s self-interested support.
On the other hand, Henry’s calm and assured repudiation of Gloucester’s advice marked the point at which he began to display a modicum of adult independence.
Suffolk was left alone to ascend the throne and tell the audience that had “prevailed” as he ominously promised to “rule both her, the king and realm.”
The Houses of York and Lancaster
The second part of the trilogy began with Gloucester leading Henry to the throne (1.1). After much reverential bowing, Suffolk presented Margaret (Mary Doherty). Henry rushed down to talk to her. He paused before snatching a kiss, pecking at her like a young boy, in another demonstration of his immaturity.
He crowned Margaret as his queen and both sat on the throne.
Gloucester was so unhappy at the peace treaty that he dropped the relevant paper rather than read that Anjou and Maine had been given back to the French and that Margaret had come without a dowry. A sour look of discontent also characterised York’s reaction to no longer being regent in France, a fact that Gloucester spoke about in annoyance, with Warwick (Andrew Sheridan) chiming in as the erstwhile conqueror of those territories.
A general air of dissension arose with Gloucester annoyed at Suffolk, the Cardinal contrarily happy with the king’s choices and fomenting a plot to unseat Gloucester, but with Somerset and Buckingham wary of him.
York was left alone to explain how Normandy was at risk before stating his own intention to claim the crown, as he waited for the right moment to end Henry’s “bookish rule”.
Beatriz Romilly seemed initially miscast as the Duchess of Gloucester, looking excessively young in comparison with her elderly husband (1.2). On the other hand, her youth suited the Duchess’s ambition for her husband to become king, thereby making her queen. And Gloucester’s age fitted his conservative desire for stability as he rejected his wife’s pretences.
His angry reaction on hearing about the Duchess’s dream of being queen provoked a very scornful and bitter riposte from her. Once again, the age difference between the actors underscored their incompatible temperaments.
A creepy, black-cloaked Hume (Simon Harrison) told her that spirit conjurers would assist her project.
Petitioners were expecting Gloucester but instead found Suffolk and Margaret. She received their petitions and sent them packing with a waft of her fan (1.3). She resolved that Gloucester had to be removed as he was treating her as a mere subject. She had by now also realised that Henry was “bent to holiness”.
Suffolk responded to her jealousy of Eleanor by promising to deal with the Duchess. An intense power vacuum had been created that all were trying to fill.
The dispute between Somerset and York was brought to Henry’s attention, but he could only scream at them. Margaret sat on the throne, while Henry climbed up into a tower and watched proceedings from aloft, thus emphasising her more commanding attitude.
From her position of authority, Margaret challenged Gloucester’s protectorship, to which Gloucester responded by thumping his staff on the ground and leaving. Margaret dropped her fan and asked Eleanor to pick it up, called her “minion” and thwacked her in the face.
Henry joined his queen on the throne and the case of alleged treachery was brought before them. The traitor was accused of claiming that York was the rightful king. Henry rushed at the accused and asked if this were true. York also joined in, threatening to punch the man. Gloucester resolved the issue by arranging a trial by combat.
Hume and his conjurors laid a man playing Mother Jourdain on the ground (1.4). Eleanor watched as a sand circle was spread round Mother Jourdain and she was covered with a royal standard. The apparition, portrayed by an older man, rose up and answered Eleanor’s questions. Proceedings were brought to an end when York and Buckingham, who had been watching from the tower, swooped to arrest them.
A comic note was struck as Henry and Margaret were accompanied by falconers who held out their arms as if bearing invisible birds and made squawking noises (2.1). Buckingham told Henry of Eleanor’s arrest and Gloucester disowned her. The ever loyal Henry gave Gloucester a reassuring look. The sequence with Simpcox was cut.
York outlined his claim to the crown at length to Warwick and Salisbury (2.2). It was hard not to laugh when Warwick concluded after this long speech “What plain proceeding is more plain than this?” The pair gave their support to York.
The king and queen sat on the throne for the trial of Eleanor, who prostrated herself before them (2.3). Henry looked unhappy at her actions, but held Eleanor’s hands comfortingly when pronouncing her banishment.
This sequence clearly showed that Henry was not relishing the exercise of power, particularly when he had to take action against the wife of his beloved uncle Humphrey. But he nevertheless insisted that Gloucester resign the protectorship, which he did so by handing over his staff to Henry. The young man looked slightly nervous at having his stabilisers removed, while Margaret appeared pleased at this outcome.
The trial by combat took place. Horner confessed to treason and was killed, and Henry pronounced that the outcome had demonstrated the guilt of the offender, thereby showing his complete trust in the theory of trial by combat.
Gloucester wrapped his cloak around himself to watch his wife’s departure (2.4). She entered wearing a cotton smock and carrying a candle as she pleaded with him to hide her shame. She was angry at her condition and cried when referring to her “shameful yoke”. She warned about Suffolk and others, and became bitter when she realised that her husband Gloucester would be their next victim.
Margaret’s hold over Henry became increasingly apparent (3.1). She told her husband that Gloucester had been insolent towards her. Margaret held Henry’s hand and talked to him like a child.
Suffolk implied that Gloucester had also been involved in sorcery. The Cardinal and York added their twopenneth. Henry responded to this pressure by wringing his hands and proclaiming Gloucester’s innocence.
Somerset brought news of the loss of France. Henry hugged Gloucester when he finally arrived, but Suffolk arrested him, causing Henry to slink away powerless to alter the course of events. Gloucester denied the accusations of treachery and Henry maintained he was innocent. But Gloucester was nevertheless taken prisoner.
Henry exclaimed that his heart was full of grief. He began to accuse Margaret in a hoarse unmanly shriek.
Once Henry had left, Margaret adopted a regal air as she described him to the remaining nobles as “too full of foolish pity”. Suffolk, the Cardinal, York and Margaret placed their hands in a pile and vowed to procure Gloucester’s death.
York and Somerset bickered over the Irish revolt. Margaret sat on the throne, her hands resting confidently at either side, adopting a dominant body posture quite unlike Henry’s previous handwringing. She took command of the crisis and York was dispatched to quell the Irish rebellion.
York realised that he had been sidelined, but took comfort that he now had an army. The nobles had placed “sharp weapons in a madman’s hands”. Jack Cade was going to be set loose to cause trouble, clearing the way for York to assume power in his wake.
Murderers hired by Suffolk informed him that they had done away with Gloucester, just before he was due to be tried (3.2). Henry was already nervous at the prospect of sitting in judgment on his uncle, and Margaret again had to hold his hand to assuage him. Henry’s reaction when Suffolk announced Gloucester’s death was even more extreme: he fainted. Once revived, he screamed in panic and pushed Suffolk to the ground. Henry’s now evident anger was short-lived as he quickly collapsed crying.
Margaret again comforted Henry but cast knowing looks at her fellow conspirators to assure them of her loyalty. Henry’s continued wailing about Gloucester prompted Margaret to complain that he had no concern for her.
Warwick claimed that Suffolk and the Cardinal had killed Gloucester traitorously. Henry became desperate as realised that he was still surrounded by enemies. Gloucester’s body was brought in, covered by a shroud that Warwick lifted to show the signs of murder it bore. Henry gazed in wonder. Margaret sat on the throne and laughed at the idea.
Henry knelt by Gloucester as Warwick and Suffolk continued to argue. Incensed by Warwick’s repeated assertions of his guilt, Suffolk drew his sword in the king’s presence, provoking Henry’s ire at this potentially treasonous act. Salisbury chimed in to say that the commons demanded Suffolk’s death or banishment. Henry promptly banished Suffolk and stood up to Margaret when she pleaded on Suffolk’s behalf. At last there was a faint glimmer of hope that Henry could assert his own authority and command.
Margaret and Suffolk bade their sad farewells. She held his hand and brushed her tears on it, vowing to repeal him or be banished herself. News came that the Cardinal was dying and they enjoyed one final, lingering kiss before they left by separate exits.
The deranged Cardinal mistook Henry for the figure of Death (3.3). He found Gloucester’s dead body, which was still onstage, and this seemed to exacerbate his guilt. He drank poison and collapsed dead.
The interval came just after Suffolk was taken up onto a tower where his head was cut off, and the severed prosthetic left onstage.
Scene 4.1 was cut, so that the second half began with Roger Evans entering for 4.2 as Jack Cade.
He wandered aimlessly before catching sight of Suffolk’s head, which because of the doubling was technically his head. He looked at it dismissively and then glanced at the audience as if wryly commenting that the prosthetic was not a good likeness. This theatrical joke was an excellent way of introducing this most theatrical and subversive of characters.
He sang the production’s Jack Cade song to himself. A groundling heckled that he had just seen him dead. Jack seemed delighted at the transgressive heckle and beamed at the man, telling him to “carry on”. This anarchist wanted the audience to behave badly. Jack was joined in the song by Dick the Butcher (Nigel Hastings) and Smith the Weaver (Gareth Pierce), who were also mentioned in the song and all three got the audience to sing along.
Jack’s repeated claims to the throne were comically undercut by Dick. Drinking small beer was declared a felony and the Clerk of Chatham was denounced as a dangerous intellectual. Sarcastic oohing greeted the news that he had the posh name Emmanuel.
Jack dubbed himself a Knight with a butcher’s cleaver just as haughty Sir Humphrey (Garry Cooper) and Stafford appeared up on the towers to demand the surrender of the rebels. Jack continued to claim the crown, but eventually conceded that he would settle for being protector to Henry. His crew demanded the execution of Lord Say, who could speak French and therefore was a traitor.
The rebels rattled the metal frame of the towers before ascending them, taking Humphrey and Stafford prisoner, and cutting their throats (4.3). Jack marked the victory by cutting his forearm with his own dagger and the rebels set off for London.
Margaret clutched Suffolk’s head and vowed revenge (4.4). Henry by contrast insisted on dealing with the Cade menace by speaking to him. He accused Margaret, who still hugged and caressed Suffolk’s head, that she would mourn not for him were he dead. Margaret assured that she would die for him, but her heart was clearly not in her words.
A messenger brought news that Jack Cade had arrived in Southwark. The rebels stood up on the towers rattling their swords on the metal. Henry decided to flee to Killingworth. Margaret’s continued pampering of Suffolk’s head introduced a ridiculous note to the sense of impending disorder.
Scene 4.5 was cut, the action continuing as Jack Cade struck his staff on ground and sat on London-stone (4.6). A poor unfortunate man rushed in and cried “Jack Cade” seconds after he had declared it treason to address him by any other name than Mortimer. The offender was struck down and then stamped on.
Lord Say was captured and accused of corrupting youth by building a grammar school (4.7). He was killed immediately after dismissing the people of Kent as “mala gens”.
Buckingham and Clifford (Garry Cooper) offered a pardon to those who would abandon Cade (4.8). The commons sided with Clifford, but then returned to support Cade. Clifford evoked the French threat and they reverted to supporting the king, upon which Cade fled.
Henry’s joy at the neutralisation of the Cade menace was cut short by news of York’s return from Ireland, ostensibly to deal with Somerset (4.9). Henry instructed Buckingham to meet him and sent Somerset to the Tower temporarily. His brisk “Come wife!” showed Henry to be increasingly manly and commanding towards Margaret.
Iden (Mike Grady) found Jack Cade starving in his garden (4.10). After a brief fight, Cade was stabbed with his own knife. Iden finished him off by snapping his neck and dragged away the dead body, saying he would take Cade’s severed head to the king.
York came to claim the crown but told Buckingham, who intercepted him, that he was only interested in pursuing Somerset (5.1). He dispersed his troops on being told that Somerset had been confined to the Tower and pledged his loyalty and that of his sons, including the sinisterly limping Richard (Simon Harrison) whose left arm was held to his chest in a sling.
York knelt obediently to Henry. But when Margaret produced Somerset, now at liberty, York accused Henry of lying. The challenge culminated in open defiance as York claimed the crown. York was arrested by Somerset, who was backed in turn by Margaret.
Clifford supported Henry, while Warwick and Salisbury sided with York. The two factions that would soon go to war became ever more distinct.
Richard spat out his first words and he and the other Yorkists daubed their faces with white paint. The two sides gathered in the two towers. Richard dragged out the dead body of Somerset and revelled in having killed him. The drums sounded as the clouds of war gathered.
At the battle of St Albans, Clifford, his face painted Lancastrian red, confronted York (5.2). After a brief sword fight, York killed Clifford, whose body was found by his son, Young Clifford (David Hartley). As he consoled his dead father, he smeared his hand over the red paint on his forehead and used it to paint his own face. The poetic eloquence of the gory violence that Young Clifford swore to wreak on the Yorkists was very striking.
Margaret appeared in her leather armour, sword in hand, and fiercely told Henry to flee to safety in London as they were losing.
York and Salisbury relished their victory and decided to pursue Henry to London (5.3). They swung their swords high into the air and froze in an aggressive posture, which marked the cliff-hanger ending of Part Two.
The True Tragedy of the Duke of York
The Yorkists arrived in Parliament and revelled in their victory (1.1). Richard tossed to the ground a sack containing Somerset’s head. Warwick showed support for York and encouraged him to claim the crown.
Backed by his supporters, Henry entered through the yard to confront them. This led to a stand-off in which the rival soldiers raised their swords to head height and warily pointed them at their opponents, nervously switching their focus of attention.
Henry did not want more bloodshed and thought that York, who was sat on the throne, would respect him. Henry outlined his claim to the title. But as that title derived from his father’s rebellion, he realised it was weak. He argued in vain that Richard II had resigned the crown. In this tense atmosphere, Henry hugged those who spoke in his support.
Henry proposed to transfer the crown to York after his death. Naturally, his supporters were appalled. The queen was going to be told of this “unmanly deed”.
York grabbed at the offered crown like a starving man after food. He eventually relinquished it and kissed Henry.
Margaret shouted in anger at Henry’s disinheritance of Prince Edward, describing her husband as a “timorous wretch”. She divorced herself from him until the disinheritance act was repealed. Margaret sponged herself with red as did the Prince. Henry thought that his estranged family would respond if he wrote to them.
Richard displayed the evil genius of his sophistry as York was urged by his brothers to seize the crown immediately (1.2). He succeeded in convincing York, but Margaret’s army was on its way to challenge him. This entire sequence was backed by subtle drumming by Henry.
In the ensuing battle, Clifford killed Rutland (Joe Jameson) in revenge for his father’s death (1.3). Rutland clung to a ladder, but Clifford was determined to root out the entire family. Rutland was thrust to the ground and stabbed in the back as he screamed. He was turned over and stabbed in the front, then in the back once more. Now it was personal.
York appeared in rags to announce that his side had lost (1.4). He was tired and could not flee. Margaret entered immediately behind him. York was surrounded and Margaret addressed him from the throne. She put him on a molehill and, dagger in hand, mocked his pretensions to be king and mimicked Richard’s limp.
The lowest blow came when she asked where Rutland was. She showed York the napkin stained with Rutland’s blood, which she rubbed in his face. She placed a paper crown on his head to add to his humiliation.
York’s hands were tied with rope and a hood placed on his head, but it was taken off briefly, giving him a chance to insult the “Amazonian trull”. He chased her round the tower but was restrained when the rope ran out.
After this excellent monologue, he cried on the napkin to wash away Rutland’s blood and begged Clifford to kill him. Northumberland began to sympathise with York’s plight but Margaret pushed him to the ground. Clifford stabbed York from the front, while Margaret stabbed from the back. Margaret ordered his head to be cut off and placed on the gates of the city of York.
York’s sons wondered what had happened to him (2.1). They were dazzled by a vision of three suns. The hope this engendered was undercut by the news of York’s killing, of the Rutland napkin, and of the display of York’s head on the city gates.
Richard’s poetic description of his passion was very powerful as he gritted his teeth in revenge.
Warwick described how they had fled from St Albans. They decided to march on London again. Edward (Patrick Myles) was now Duke of York and was to be proclaimed king. News came of the approach of the queen’s army.
Margaret greeted Henry at York and pointed out York’s head (2.2). Henry was unhappy about the killing, but Clifford criticised his “harmful pity”. Henry knighted Prince Edward (Joe Jameson). A messenger brought news of Warwick’s support for Edward. Clifford told Henry to leave the battlefield because “the queen hath best success when you are absent”.
A parlay was called during which Margaret addressed Edward from the throne, her legs apart in a dominant posture. Richard entered angrily looking for Clifford and swearing vengeance for Rutland. Margaret bandied insults while Henry stood back, resuming his look of childish fright. Henry demanded to be heard, but the situation was now beyond words.
Richard shouted at Warwick complaining that he had retreated (2.3). But the Yorkists restored their courage.
Richard found Clifford (2.4), bashing a big metal club against the metal as his limped slowly and menacingly towards him. Loud drums accompanied their fight. Clifford overpowered Richard on the ground. But Richard retrieved a sword and stabbed Clifford just as Warwick turned up.
Henry described the ebb and flow of battle (2.5). He sat despondently on the molehill, realising he was not wanted in the combat. This relatively quiet moment made him sympathetic as he imagined himself a “homely swain” to an accompaniment of slow quiet drumming, which called to mind the distant conflict.
Henry hid in the tower to watch with a scared, appalled face as a son (Joe Jameson) discovered that he had just killed his own father, crouching over his dead body. The pair turned over, swapping places, to portray a father (Garry Cooper) who rued having killed his son. Using the same pair to portray these four characters was very effective.
The sequence culminated with both father and son speaking at once, gazing at each other side by side, with Henry in the middle with an appalled expression. The father touched the son’s face with his hand, and the son kissed it. Henry took both and joined their hands before they exited separately.
This was an instance where the doubling forced by the limited cast produced a very powerful result.
Margaret urged Henry to flee.
Clifford entered wounded and dying, fearing Henry’s overthrow (2.6). York’s sons seized on him. Richard put white paint on Clifford’s red face and he died silently amid their taunts. His head was severed offstage to replace York’s on the city gates.
The gamekeepers bearing crossbows spotted Henry wearing plain clothes on the tower (3.1). He described how Warwick had gone to get Lady Bona. Henry was visibly happier to be in disguise and out of trouble. Henry failed to convince the keepers to recognise him as rightful king and he was taken prisoner.
King Edward appeared in his crown and a regal green robe (3.2). Lady Grey (Beatriz Romilly) sat under the tower, faced outwards to the audience and replied to his questions dispassionately and factually, construing Edward’s talk of “love” as a subject rather than, as Edward hoped, as a potential wife.
Rejecting his proposition, she turned to face him and swore that honesty would be her dower. She became progressively angrier, and finally requested the return of her husband’s lands on her knees, which Edward eventually granted.
News came that Henry had been captured. Richard launched into a long soliloquy in which he plotted to get rid of his brothers to reach “far off shore” of sovereignty. He complained about his deformity, full of anger and self hate. He imagined himself lost in thorny wood. But far from being totally powerless, he knew that he could “smile and murders whiles I smile”.
This terrifying exposition of Richard’s bloody ambition was a great point at which to position the interval.
After the ultra serious end of the first half, 3.3 provided some jolly comic relief. The French court was portrayed as outrageously camp. King Lewis (Brendan O’Hea) sat on the throne, his legs crossed to show his hose-clad legs beneath his flowing blue gown, and sang in the style of Piaf for Margaret and Prince Edward. His speaking accent was straight out of ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Lady Bona was played by a man, which added to the hilarity.
Warwick had come to woo Lady Bona for Edward. Lewis got a laugh by referring to him as “naughty Warwick”. He held his hand and sat him on the ground. The king slowly leant back obliging Warwick to lean forward on top of him as he argued for King Edward. Lady Bona coughed raucously before switching into a high-pitched female voice. Lewis agreed that his sister should be Edward’s bride.
Lewis kissed the Post on the cheek and then full on the mouth. The letter he brought informed him that Edward had married Lady Grey. Lewis threw an hysterical fit, running around the back of the stage, kicking the drums and bashing the cymbals as he cried “is this the alliance that he seeks with France” before collapsing.
Faced with Edward’s duplicity, Warwick switched his allegiance back to Henry and bowed to Margaret. Lewis agreed to back an invasion.
Edward placed his new Queen Elizabeth on the throne and kissed her (4.1). Clarence (Gareth Pierce) criticised Edward for his choice, but she defended herself. The Post brought news that Lewis was sending an army and that Warwick had returned. Clarence and Somerset left to join Warwick, but Richard remained loyal.
Warwick, Somerset and Clifford prepared for battle. Warwick had smeared red paint over his Yorkist white. Clarence and Clifford joined him in doing so (4.2).
The king’s supporters beat on the tower and out fell Edward (4.3). Warwick kicked ‘duke’ Edward to the ground. His crown was snatched and he was bound and led away. They set off for London to free and restore Henry.
Queen Elizabeth crouched in tears telling Rivers that Edward had been taken prisoner (4.4). They went to sanctuary.
Scene 4.5 was cut so that the action continued with 4.6. Henry was restored to the crown, for which he thanked Warwick and Clarence. He made them join hands and appointed them both protectors, vowing to retire and lead a life of religious devotion.
He asked for Margaret and the Prince to be returned from France. But these preparations were cut short by news of Edward’s escape. Another fight was coming, but this time for once he displayed signs of tactical skill. But he still could not understand why people had turned against him.
Edward broke in and took Henry to the Tower. He and his forces set off for Coventry to deal with Warwick.
Warwick stood on the tower representing Coventry as Edward demanded his surrender (5.1.). Forces arrived to support Lancaster, with Margaret standing in the other tower. Clarence wiped the red from his face and rejoined his brother. Richard smirked “Welcome good Clarence”, a sign that Richard would not forget his treachery, the consequences of which would be seen later in his own play.
Warwick fled to Barnet but he was beaten in a sword fight with Edward.
Warwick was fatally wounded and was left alone dying (5.2). His long death soliloquy was commensurate with his character’s long journey. Oxford (Nigel Hastings) told him that Margaret had come from France, which caused him to revive briefly before he finally died.
Edward readied himself to meet the queen’s army against a backdrop of constant drumming (5.3).
Margaret stood on the tower and spoke to her troops before the battle of Tewkesbury, telling them to fight for the justice of their cause (5.4). Edward, below, gave his speech to the yard as if they were his troops.
Edward and Margaret fought. Margaret was captured, her crown was taken, and she was bound in ropes. Prince Edward was also bound with ropes. The Prince was defiant, but King Edward stabbed him, an enterprise in which he was joined enthusiastically by Richard and Clarence. Richard offered to fulfil Margaret’s wish to be killed, but Edward prevented him. Richard set off instead to the Tower.
Margaret, her wrists still bound, propped up Ned and cried over him. She begged the king and Clarence to kill her, but was taken away.
Henry was a prisoner in the Tower, kneeling in a blue smock adorned with a crucifix as he read a book (5.6). Richard crept in behind. Henry seemed to sense his presence before Richard announced his arrival by knocking his metal club on the framework.
Henry steeled himself for his end with a demeanour that was angry but firm. He prophesied that Richard would bring havoc. Richard snarled at Henry’s insults and limped forward as Henry railed at him. As the confrontation reached a peak, Richard’s snarling vyied to outdo the increasing force of Henry’s denunciations. Crying “I’ll hear no more”, Richard struck Henry and stabbed him. Henry remained true to his principles and died pardoning Richard.
Richard collapsed under his weight so that Henry ended up on top, obliging Richard to struggle free. Showing his animalistic side, he pulled at Henry’s garment with his teeth like a dog.
He stood over Richard and symbolically struck his metal club down onto the throne, but did not actually strike his enemy. Richard spoke about his own cruelty and deformity adding that he had been born with teeth. Full of horror at himself, he threw away Henry’s book, before declaring “I am myself alone”.
The king, queen and their newborn baby sat on the throne, while Richard dragged Henry’s body aside. Then Richard warned that Clarence should be beware as he and the rest were his next targets.
King Edward came forward and summarised his victories (5.7). He cradled his young son as he talked of peace.
His brothers kissed the baby, who was finally taken by Richard. The royal couple returned to the throne. The king ordered that Margaret be sent to France. Richard sat at the foot of the throne still holding and looking at the baby.
When King Edward said “For here I hope begins our lasting joy” an ominous drum sounded and Richard glanced up suspiciously at the audience. This hinted at his antics in the sequel and constituted the fly in the ointment of Edward’s domestic bliss. The performance finished with the cast singing the Jack Cade song.
The trio of productions were a great achievement. The plays provided an epic panorama of violence mediated by verse and fine rhetoric, the whole backed by an impressive use of percussion, mostly drumming provided by the cast.
Skilled delivery made the formulaic and repetitive nature of the denunciations and swearing of vengeance very digestible.
The evil flourish with which Simon Harrison’s Richard concluded the trilogy only whetted the appetite to see him as Richard III.
But it was Graham Butler’s Henry that remained the focus of attention, transforming from frightened boy to young adult, seemingly cut down just at the moment he acquired the maturity to be the king he had been expected to be.