As both celebrate their 15th anniversaries, West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and Halifax-based Northern Broadsides have joined forces to present the epic Wars of the Roses.
Adapted by director Barrie Rutter from Shakespeare's Henry VI plays and Richard III, the staging is enthralling and to experience the seven and a half hour trilogy in one day is exhilharating and draining. Kings come and go and heads roll with gathering momentum. It's the more powerful for being fired off with such gritty gusto and forthright northern accents by the 21-strong Northern Broadsides company.
In an uncluttered production characterisation is sharp, each scene punchily delivered. Andrew Whitehead makes a sympathetic Henry VI, conveying the child-king's earnest vulnerability, his stunted emotional development. He vainly tries to keep his balance on the slippery tightrope of royal politics between the warring houses of York and Lancaster.
Costumes are neutral until Henry's shiny new successor Edward IV takes the crown and a double bass, at which startling point - as a new era dawns - the court turns smart New Labour, sipping champagne and dancing to a jazz band.
Richard Standing's vital portrayal of Edward is a royal PR's dream - fit and young, "plausibility dusted with charm".
Battles are fought, foes vanquished, standards swiftly raised while severed heads are presented in pails or impaled. Rough wooden structures provide a platform on which "deformed Dick" hobbles to secure his crooked stake in the royal lottery in Richard III. Conrad Nelson brings a revoltingly matey intimacy to the murdering usurper. His evil ambitions are unfurled with a contemptuous ferocity.
When he makes his "winter of discontent" speech he resembles a plotting eastern European dictator amid political gangsters, marshalling his forces of darkness. As Margaret of Anjou Helen Sheals flaunts her position as Henry VI's manipulative wife, ending up as a bitter crone - a fox fur strewn round her neck. There's isn't a weak link in the cast.
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