Queen Margaret. Review. Mission Theatre.
It’s Plantagenet England but not as we know it. With cigarette in hand and weekend luggage in tow Sarah Cullyer as Queen Margaret looked more like a member of a hen party about to board an Easyjet flight than the ruler of England and France. For Downpour Theatre’s production of Jenny O’Hare’s story of the monarch largely side lined in Shakespeare’s Henry plays was staged in modern dress and directed by Andy Cullyer.
Set in the mid-15th century at the start of the Wars of the Roses the play depicts Margaret D’Anjou’s political battles of survival in a brutal world where treachery and treason were essential additions to the CVs of the warring factions of the time. The rise and fall of the Pont-à-Mousson born aristocrat from her marriage to Henry VI as part of a peace treaty between England and France to her eventual exile is one of the lesser-known stories of the time – one which O’Hare does her best to relate in the play. With so many characters jostling for power and double-crossing the name of the game, the narrative is at times hard to follow. Indeed, having some form of subtitles or flash cards would help the audience to keep track of the comings and goings of various Earls, Lords and Cardinals.
Kate Raw as Hume was outstanding as she tried to make sense of the proceedings and hedging her bets in the civil war by wearing a white rose for York on one lapel and a red one for Lancaster on the other. Sarah Wiggins as the usurper York gave an impassioned portrayal of the soon to be executed rebel while James Locke as Henry VI had the more difficult role of the enfeebled monarch overshadowed by his strident spouse. And there was strong support from Callum Sharp as Suffolk, Mike Harley as Gloucester, Eddy Martin as Beaufort and Ester Warren as Prince Edward. Based in Thornbury in South Gloucestershire the company included Liz Kelly as York, Hannah Galliers as Warwick, Georgie Loenard as Somerset and Alice Walton who played Joan of Arc in Gloucester.
Brooding and surly, angry and assertive, Queen Margaret has the all the time the ghost of Joan of Arc (Marinella Phillips) hovering around her interjecting with her own story of betrayal and also inspiration. As a theatrical device this was a clever piece of theatre by O’Hare as it was a chance to dial down the rhetoric for more reflective prose. At the other end of the drama’s spectrum was the Jack Cade rebellion which came perilously close to toppling the court of Queen Margaret – or should we say Henry VI since he was technically in charge.
At times confusing, at times poetic, and always Shakespearean-esque, the play was certainly gripping with knife fights, confrontations and rebellions – keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout. O’Hare’s script uses much of Shakespeare’s lines and melds them successfully with her own blending the ancient and modern to create a must watch for scholars of the bard’s work.
The play is at The Mission Theatre on 9th July and continues on tour in Clifton and Cirencester
Details of the play at https://www.downpourtheatrecompany.co.uk/
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