Henry VI (Tour - Brighton)
Many of the headlines about the Globe tour of Shakespeare's bloody histories have focused on the four appearances at War of the Roses battlefields. But it's worth noting that many of the performances are in places far removed from these mediaeval slaughterhouses.
Brighton, for example, has been spared the ravages of civil war, unless you count the contretemps between the mods and the rockers in the 60s, but that seemed scarcely relevant as the company brought their bloody, internecine strife to the Theatre Royal.
Director Nick Bagnall creates a cracking pace throughout, lobbing quite a bit off each play – it speeds the process up all right but the small cast can sometimes create confusion – it's a bit disconcerting to see an actor get killed and appear on stage as another character two minutes later. At one stage in Part Two, Garry Cooper got despatched so many times that it was like watching an episode of The Returned.
Unfortunately, I couldn't make the first part of the trilogy (the play that reputedly has least input from Shakespeare) but the two I saw were rich in action. The productions are high on excitement throughout and produced some unexpected pieces of humour, mainly of the dark variety. And there was an unexpected round of applause for the "let's kill all the lawyers" line.
There were some really strong performances: Garry Cooper, when not being murdered, was a dignified Duke Humphrey; Simon Harrison's blunt, northern-accented Gloucester was the ever-smiling villain and Brendan O'Hea provided an excellent double-turn as the scheming York and an extremely camp King Lewis.
Graham Butler's Henry VI was not quite the softly-spoken, near-saint of many productions – there was a bit of inner steel there. It's invidious to pick out too many performances as the strength in these productions is the ensemble-playing and that's strong throughout.
The Globe should be applauded for this venture. This is Shakespeare at its purest – minimal props, no elaborate designs or outlandish vision. Bagnall's clear and fast-paced production is, perhaps, a little weak in verse-speaking but more than makes up for this in raw energy.