If you are seeking a Shakespeare play with flourish, deadly danger, battles, cunning rogues with royal exterminations and cruel interventions in their Machiavellian hearts, twists and turns and beheadings aplenty, with a chilling exeunt omnes then the RSC’s current take on Henry VI part three (Wars of the Roses) is your whopping battle-sword swinging, back-stabbing Shakespeare blood fest to go for! It may feature red and white roses but Gardeners’ World it is not.
This second part of the RSC’s current Henry VI story is a cracking play that starts with a big bang, some fantastic sword play and the first of many beheadings! Don’t you just love a gory head on a spike?
The story follows on in the same visual style as Henry VI: Rebellion and keeps many of its key characters until they get bumped off. The action is swift and dynamic and we get some terrifically rich performances from King Henry VI (Mark Quarterly), Queen Margaret (Minnie Gale), Clifford (Daniel J Carver), Somerset (Benjamin Westerby), Richmond (Felixe Forde), Salisbury (Peter Moreton), Warwick (Nicholas Karimi) and, hateful sub-villain of the piece, York (Oliver Alvin-Wilson). The casting is extensive with many fine supporting roles but the one which we are all looking forward to seeing and hearing does not disappoint – that of Richard Duke of Gloucester played with a compelling and heartlessly sneaky blood-soaked style by Arthur Hughes. Hughes is playing the title role of Richard III later this summer and given his performance in Wars of the Roses it will be hotly anticipated. His “… So do I wish the crown, being so far off, and so chide the means that keeps me from it, and so I say I’ll cut the causes off, flattering me with impossibilities….” gets a big round of applause as it is seen to be a forerunner of the famous “Now is the Winter of our discontent…” speech. In quite the opposite emotional theatrical temperature Quarterly as Henry VI gives us a sympathetically subtle flawed king. You really feel for him as fate deals its savage blows.
A young face from the Wars of the Roses cast to watch out for in the future is that of Emma Tracey who puts in magnificent performances as Rutland and understudies Prince Edward. Tracey breathes and inhabits her characters as if her life depends upon it and is a fine and charismatic young actress.
Wars of the Roses is a compelling complex, dynamically done, and dynamically acted production of dastardly dynasties at the RSC Stratford. Watch it as a solo play or double your diabolic pleasure and catch it with Henry VI: Rebellion. Wars of the Roses runs until 4th June 2022