Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 18 January 2015

HVI: Play of Thrones

Union Theatre ⋄ 6th - 24th January 2015

Valar morghulis.

Laura Seymour

Supple and beautifully acted, Phil Willmott’s Play of Thrones captures the medley of characters in Henry VI parts 1-3 (with snippets from Richard II and Henry V) to a T. Penelope Day’s York snarls like a captured bulldog, tied to an inverted ladder just as her own ascent to power is abruptly upturned. The Duchess of Gloucester is as glamorous as she is deluded. Paul Adeyefa, playing Henry VI in a brilliant stage debut, delivers Henry’s long speech about the secure lot of the peasant with such precision that it would be very good indeed if he decided to play the similarly-ruminative Richard II next.

This production very cleverly merges some of Shakespeare’s characters together, a ploy that works especially well when Suffolk’s seduction of Margaret in Henry VI Part I is overlaid with the scene in which the Countess of Auvergne entraps Talbot in her home (also in Henry VI Part I). The lovers are embodied in a single couple, Emma Kelly and Gavin Kerr, interleaving lines from various characters in an extremely rich and surprising use of the text.

In a critical commonplace that probably leaves Shakespeare’s rival Robert Greene (who was himself one of the first playwrights to include stage-combat in stage directions) rotating in his grave, Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays are generally accepted as having changed the face of stage violence. Even Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays did not involve such spectacular focus on the enacting of swordfights onstage. Play of Thrones carries this even further, adding more violent spectacle.

For example, in the original text, the lovers Suffolk and Margaret part: ‘This way fall I to death’, Suffolk states; ‘This way for me’, Margaret replies. Willmott ups the poignancy in what is usually played as two actors simply walking away from each other. In Play of Thrones the pair are strapped to separate ladders and brutally tortured by Richard of York and his brothers (with more than a hint of the Amo Frisch-Frank Giering pairing in the original Funny Games). Their parting becomes literally one between life and death: the lovers strain and fail to hold hands one last time and Suffolk expires, heading off to the afterlife and leaving Margaret to be tortured without at least the comfort of his presence.

I have never watched Game of Thrones, so perhaps I missed some references, visual or otherwise, but  George R. R. Martin has spoken about drawing on the War of the Roses in his sprawling fantasy series, and my companion informed me that some of the characters would not have looked out of place in the Night’s Watch.  I thought the production’s announcement that this was the ‘Shakespeare that inspired GAME OF THRONES’ was perhaps the ironic reverse of cash-trapped seventeenth century writers attempting to sell more books by plastering the name SHAKESPEARE on the flyleaves. Regardless, the production works as gutsy and accessible take on Shakespeare. 


Laura Seymour

Laura Seymour is writing a PhD thesis on cognitive theory and Shakespeare in performance. Her poems have appeared in several journals such as 'Iota', 'Envoi', 'Ambit', and 'Magma'. Her book 'The Shark Cage' won the 2013 Cinnamon Press debut collection prize and is forthcoming in 2015.

HVI: Play of Thrones Show Info

Directed by Phil Willmott

Cast includes Paul Adyefa, Abigail Carter-Simpson, James Clarkson, Penelope Day, Hilary Derrett, Mark Extance, Patrick Holt, Michael Keane, Emma Kelly, Gavin Kerr, Simeon Oakes, Zak Reay-Barr




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