The nerdier, or should I say more eagle-eyed, of you Shakespeareans will have noticed no subtitle in the header of this review denoting which part of Shakespeare’s trilogy is presented by Omidaze Productions and the Wales Millennium Centre. That’s because Yvonne Murphy has boldly taken the trio of histories and cut the fat, extracted the drama and serves the audience with a sublime adaption of the famous War of the Roses.
Adaptations of this kind are by no means unprecedented with known history of truncating the trilogy going back to the seventeenth century. The most famous in recent memory being John Barton’s 1963 The War of the Roses, although, this was an adaptation of the tetralogy (including Richard III). And, there is even still debate over the original format Shakespeare wrote the story. We do know that the in the posthumous First Folio Henry VI was published in the three parts we are familiar with today.
The fear of course is what can happen in the process of adaptation. Will something of the genius of the plays be lost to editing? Will the language still have the room to flow, as it should? Will there be enough time to tell us what we need to know? You need not worry; Murphy has both honoured and revitalized the story of Henry VI.
Omidaze Productions, following their great success with Richard III last year, have stuck to using an all female cast: if it ain’t broke… I am always a little cautious with cross gendering characters in terms of storytelling. It is never an arbitrary move and will always affect the narrative for better or for worse. In this case, it works and it works damn well. The sense of ensemble was beautiful – not just in their theatrical togetherness but there was also a sense of experimentation with the ebbs and flows of community as power dynamics shift and revolve.
The evening begins as we ushered up to the roof void in the Wales Millennium Centre. There are lines of the play and historical facts written on the walls of the tight corridors leading to our destination; the words of which I can only glimpse, we are going at such a speed. I can’t help but notice that a lot of the words I pluck out are on the murkier side: ‘murdered’; ‘deposed’; ‘killed’; executed – perhaps a clue of what we are in for.
We get to the space and the set (Gabriella Slade) is reminiscent of post apocalyptic cold war. Think foil clad air-conditioning ducts; think big industrial fans; think scaffolding, lots of scaffolding. The costumes reinforce this cold futuristic feeling; I felt I had stumbled on to a Doctor Who film set (of course I was like a giddy child from then on). It was awesome.
The action was promenade, which suits Shakespeare’s more episodic writing brilliantly. We are persuaded around the scenes by the cast waving and beckoning us on – though it never feels forced. I was entranced from beginning to end. All the actors were fantastic in the their multiple roles. I don’t like picking out single performance when the sense of the ensemble was so strong but Alice White (as Edward VI), Suzanne Packer (as Queen Margaret) and Lizzie Winkler (as Richard, Duke of Gloucester) were particularly enthralling with all other players having very strong moments and no one having a weak one.
What Yvonne Murphy has constructed here is a multitude of compositions and moments so engaging as will have you chasing the scenes so that you trip up with excitement, much like this klutz did.
A powerful night of intrigue and fantastic storytelling.
Henry VI by William Shakespeare presented by Omidaze Productions and Wales Millennium Centre.
Directed by Yvonne Murphy
Until February 20
Read Yvonne talking about Henry VI: