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Trevor Nunn's Wars of The Roses divides critics

The Shakespeare trilogy opened at the Rose Theatre last week

Laurence Spellman (Earl of Richmond) and Robert Sheehan (Richard III)
© Mark Douet

Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage

★★★

"Robert Sheehan is a fine, appealing young Irish actor, but he simply doesn't have the voice, or the kind of energy, to drive along the black farce of Richard."

"Otherwise, Nunn's production, although it looks a bit musty, more 1950s than 1590s, is strongly cast with Alex Waldmann making a humorous little boy simpleton of Henry VI, the Norwegian television star Kåre Conradi doubling strongly as the Dauphin (sensually bewitched by Imogen Daines's gamine Joan of Arc)."

"For old RSC hands there are so many ghosts summoned in Guy Woolfenden's magnificent original music (arranged by Colin Buckeridge) but, as befits the Rose, John Napier's "concept" set design (executed by Mark Friend) is more wooden, galleried and softer than John Bury's grey steel, monumental original, with its forbidding council table."

Michael Billington, The Guardian

★★★★

"Although Nunn sees the production as a tribute to his twin mentors at the RSC, it exists as a thrilling piece of theatre in its own right."

"In Edward IV, with its dynastic power struggles and popular uprisings, we move to the meat of the drama. This is Shakespeare showing not just the intoxicating corruption of power but the tragic consequences of civil war."

"After the ensemble vigour of the first two plays, I find Richard III marginally less exciting. Robert Sheehan captures well the Duke of Gloucester's inviolable solitude and has a nice habit of peering at his victims with rapt, intimidating intensity but, while he clearly understands the character, his voice lacks range and colour."

Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph

★★★★★

"Theatrical history is being remade."

"In repeating the experiment, director Trevor Nunn might stand charged of retrospectively diminishing it. Great Trev be praised, though: deploying a dynamic 23-strong cast, his exhilarating production not only gives the RSC a run for its money, it pays poignant tribute to the now ailing pair and their landmark legacy."

"The speed pricks us into paying complete attention and without recourse to stage-blood, Nunn brings the relentless slaughter – battlefield charges, hand-to-hand combat, gruesome beheadings - savagely home too."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times

★★

"There is no denying the epic sweep of this nine-hour onslaught of Shakespearean history plays. Yet, for all its solid staging, for all its muscularity — well, no, often because of its muscularity — Trevor Nunn's ambitious productions ends up only skin deep."

"Yes, the first half of Henry VI (Part One) does offer the sort of beefy declarations — "Saint George and victory!" — that can't be mumbled. YET MUST THE CAST PERFORM THESE FIRST 90 MINUTES AS IF EVERY LINE WAS WRITTEN IN CAPITALS? It's lively to the point of deathly."

"Alex Waldmann is the glorious exception, the human heart of it all as a diffident Henry VI overpowered by his wife Margaret (Joely Richardson, her French accent hijacking her performance) ... Yet Robert Sheehan, as a young, vividly psychopathic Richard, works better stealing scenes in Edward IV (the second and best of a trilogy you can see individually or in day-long sprees) than he does carrying his own play."

Natasha Tripney, The Stage

★★

"Trevor Nunn's revival of John Barton and Peter Hall's famed reworking of Shakespeare's history plays has already put a frame around itself by way of the controversy surrounding its all-white casting. But by making the argument for ‘historical verisimilitude' (which doesn't appear to extend to matters of dentistry or hygiene) Nunn has merely succeeded in placing his trilogy in a big dusty box, a container from which it never quite escapes."

"The strobe-lit, slowed down battle scenes become wearying after you've seen five of them, and when it's time for a character to die, they collapse cleanly in the centre of the stage, for this is a bloodless production in more ways than one."

"Some of the directorial choices border on the perverse. This is not a cast short on talent, yet so much of the acting feels, at best, mechanical. There's no variance. It's all so dispiritingly overblown, all jut and strut and puff, all chin and chest, like they've all been told to round out every vowel, to blow the words up like balloons."

The Wars of The Roses runs at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 31 October.

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