THE LION IN WINTER by James Goldman
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.
Oh if only history lessons at school were as entertaining as this devilishly devious and comical play.
Set in King Henry's castle at Chinon in France during the Christmas of 1183, it all starts with a bedroom scene with Henry and Alice, Countess of Vexin, but more apt would her title had it have been Vixen, because she's supposed to be promised to one of Henry's sons and not cavorting with the King!
Henry had had his Queen imprisoned but let her out for State events and special occasions, like Christmas, but does Eleanor of Aquitaine still love her King or has she just got her eyes on his Crown jewels and all that go along with them?
There are three sons Richard,Geoffrey and John all vying and scheming to be Henry's successor to the throne and also Philip II, son of Louis VII.
There's more back biting and scheming, possible murder plots, bribery and unfaithfulness than in one episode of Eastenders, and it's a whole lot more fun to watch with a more than liberal sprinkling of humour to go.
King Henry, or should I say John Parker, was the main attraction here. What a natural and humorous performance John gave. If Leonard Rossitor ever played this role, this is how it would have looked and sounded, and even with this similarity it did not detract from the performance because John was excellent as Henry, stamping his authority as King but with just a glimmer of compassion for his imprisoned wife. It was just a glimmer though!
Jane Herring (Eleanor of Aquitaine) has that classic look about her, one that makes you think that you have seen her maybe in some Hollywood period film of days gone by. She has that aura about her acting which oozes regality and draws your eyes to her whenever she is on stage.Hypnotising.
Chris Reed (Richard I) pulls off a powerful performance as the eldest son in line to the throne with a little secret which is unveiled in the play involving the young French King, Philip II. They didn't teach us that in the history books... as far as I can remember anyway. There's no pulling back of emotion with Chris' acting.
Middle son Geoffrey is camped up a bit by actor Richard Hill giving Geoffrey a certain "devil may care" attitude but with a sly and deceitful manner, Eager to get what he wants throne wise and he is not afraid to lie and deceive the younger sibling John to try and get what he is aiming for.
And then there is the baby of the Royal Family, John. Played with even more camp by James Green, but not that over the top to turn John into some pantomime figure. Believable but ever so slightly naive in thinking that daddy King Henry favoured him over his elder brothers,
James Barker portrayed Philip II who had no trouble with projection of his voice, An angry king but with every reason to be in order to hang on to his small realm, Constantly in verbal battle with Henry, but a royal who also knew what he wanted.
Playing the castle slut was Rachel Page as Alice. Thinking she could wrap the King round her little finger there were times when this didn't seem to be the case, but still the firm favourite squeeze of randy King Henry. Rachel looked like she was enjoying the role with her flirty character.
The two servants were played by Chris Griffiths and Lesley Brown.
We sometimes don't see the talent we have under our very noses in Nottingham but there was an abundance on show in "The Lion In Winter" with every actor showcased at their very best in this wonderfully entertaining and comical slice of history.
Great costumes and period appropriate props, with real drink being poured from real ewers into real goblets. it annoys me when small things like seeing any liquid which is supposed to be drunk not being present. Such a small thing, I know, but something that was not overlooked in this faultless (apart from a few stumbles over words, but this was opening night) little masterpiece. Forget Peter O Toole in the 1968 movie version, go along to the Lace Market theatre for a right royal romp hut hurry, tickets are yet again in short supply.
"The Lion In Winter" is on until Saturday 24 January 2015.