Birthday with Dad

“The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses” (BBC Two, 2016)

Note: I wrote a first draft of this last summer with the idea of shopping it to an American outlet before the new Hollow Crown series aired there in December 2016, but whenever I tried to revise it for publication, I kept getting madder and adding more wordcount, and, well, here it is.   

BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown (2012), a starry adaption of Shakespeare’s history plays Richard II, Henry IV Part One and Part Two, and Henry V, was successful enough to easily justify a second series, adapting the next four history plays: the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. But the announcement and production were a long time coming, and the second series, The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses only aired in 2016. I suspect the problem was hesitation over the source material, specifically the three parts of Henry VI.

The Henry VI plays, according to common wisdom, are just not very good. Shakespeare’s earliest work, and not even all by him, a tangled mess that needs trimming and rewriting for audiences to understand. In the 20th century, major British theatres usually cut the trilogy down to two plays, most famously as The Wars of the Roses at the RSC in 1963, extensively rewritten by John Barton. The cuts usually fall heavily on Henry VI Part One, which was written as a standalone prequel, after the other two: while Part Two and Part Three focus on the civil war between York and Lancaster in England, Part One tracks the rise and fall of Joan of Arc and the English wars in France. In most of the 20th-century British productions, the abbreviated pair of Henry VI plays were followed by a Richard III – a more popular history play that is considered good enough to stand by itself. This is the tack The Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses took, cutting most of Part One and rewriting the other two parts heavily, much more than any of the other plays in The Hollow Crown series.

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Birthday with Dad

All the theatre I saw in 2016, ranked

(nb: most of this was written on the train on New Year’s Eve, so “last night” = Dec 30th.)

In 2016 I saw 41 plays (and three staged readings, which were interesting but it feels unfair to put in with the rest because they’re not supposed to be fully realised pieces of theatre). Drunk Theatre stalwart Louisa and I tried to clear out the bottle-ends in the booze cabinet before the New Year, and carried out the immense task of force-ranking all our 2016 plays with Post-It notes. (for the record if you are also looking to clear out your drinks bottles, the “Monkey Gland”, a 1920s? cocktail involving grenadine and absinthe, was surprisingly all right.)

Bottom to top:

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Birthday with Dad

“Margaret of Anjou”, By Jove Theatre

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Oh my goodness I have been missing this kind of theatre, and I didn’t even realise until I went. A small white-painted wood-floored gallery under a railway arch in south London with one toilet and the “bar” a table run by an artistic director selling crisps and plastic cups of bag-in-a-box wine, and a collaborative poem about the project hanging on the wall, and gosh when I walked in I just felt a wave of artistic comfort and joy.

“Margaret of Anjou: a new play by Shakespeare” is taken from four of Shakespeare’s plays: Henry VI parts 1, 2, and 3, and Richard III. Prof. Liz Schafer and dramaturg Philippa Kelly created a ‘new’ play about the character Margaret of Anjou – who is in all four plays, and is the character with the most lines in Shakespeare – out of Shakespeare’s text.

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Drunk Theatre: “HVI: Play of Thrones” at the Union Theatre

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The Union Theatre isn’t technically above a pub, though it feels like it might as well be. It is, however, just around the corner from Baltic, a restaurant/bar that does very good cocktails, so good that before heading to the theatre, Louisa and I had four. (Between us. We’re not total animals. Yet.)

Exploring connections between the Game of Thrones series and the historical Wars of the Roses isn’t new. There’s a really excellent site History Behind Game of Thrones and an upcoming book entitled, er, Game of Thrones and History. What Phil Willmott, director and adapter of HVI: Play of Thrones, has correctly picked up on is that there is also a strong literary similarity between the Game of Thrones series and Shakespeare’s trilogy of Henry VI plays, in that they both go, “Oh, the Wars of the Roses? Sounds great, let’s add some pirates, magic, adultery, witches, over-the-top gore, bad jokes, zombies and/or robots and basically just go totally bonkers with it.”

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Drunk Theatre: “Henry IV, Part One” and “Part Two”, by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican

henry iv rsc ft

Last week I had three days off in a row (unprecedented pleasure!) and on Wednesday night I stopped by the Barbican ten minutes before curtain to see which Henry IV was playing, and whether there were any tickets left. It was Part One, and I got what I think must be the best seat in the Barbican. It’s AA3 in the upper circle, and I think it is the best because:

  1. It is £10
  2. The view is hardly restricted at all
  3. When you leave it opens straight out onto a martini bar.
Thirty seconds away from your seat.

 

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flint castle sunrise

Richard II: Flint Castle, Wales

It’s either ironic or very appropriate that I’m writing this from Paris as the sun sets and the sky turns from blue to pink to gold; Wales was rocky grey and green and very dull. Not all of Wales, of course! Hay on Wye is rightly famous for books and Hereford for cider. But the north coast of Flintshire is neither inspiring nor interesting, especially in January, which is when I went. After a sunny Saturday afternoon lunch in London with friends and lots of fizzy wine, I got on the Tube and sat across from two women with no overnight bags who I realised were getting the same train I was. “It’s at four forty-six, do you think we’ll be all right for seats?” one said.

“Yeah,” the other said, with an undertone of obviously. “Not too many people going up to the coast this time of year, are they? All cold and wet and black?”

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