Thursday, 12 March 2009

And When He Falls, March 11, 2009 ****

And When He Falls 
By John Stanton
fortyfivedownstairs, until March 11 to 29, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 12, 2009

John Stanton has a voice like dark chocolate and his rich tones give resonance to the language of Shakespeare and Marlowe. Stanton investigates the Plantagenet Kings of England through historical narration and monologues extracted from the plays of these masters of Elizabethan theatre. The evening resounds with tales of bloody conflicts and inner turmoil that plagued the English Kings for centuries.

The title is taken from Cardinal Wolsey’s monologue in Shakespeare’s play about Henry VIII, a Tudor King. Wolsey captures pithily the collapse of reigns and the lost power of Kings when he says, “And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer, never to hope again.”

Stanton, directed by Jill Forster, gives a potted version of the history of each King’s reign between the speeches. The tone of these narrations is sonorous, even portentous, with only an occasional quip to lighten the mood and provide balance to the weighty speeches. There could be a little more light and shade.

Stanton begins with a lighter speech from Marlowe and has fun playing the overtly homosexual King, Edward II, as indignant, camp and slightly petulant. Edward III began the 100 Years War and we hear of the outcome of his exploits from a French mariner who reports to Phillip of France.

Speeches from Shakespeare’s Richard II are a substantial part of the evening. We see the stately John of Gaunt, who Shakespeare portrayed as noble and well loved although, historically, he is remembered as cruel and hated. His son, Henry Bolingbroke, usurped the throne and became Henry IV.

The speeches written for Gaunt’s son, Henry V, are some of the greatest in Shakespeare’s historical plays. Stanton delivers Henry’s famous address to his troops at Hafleur (“Once more unto the breech dear friends…”) with passion and royal commitment. He follows this rousing monologue with Henry’s more intimate St. Crispian’s Day speech to his soldiers.

Richard III usurped the throne several generations later and Shakespeare’s famous character is richly represented in the last speeches. Stanton does not attempt to create the lame walk or hunchback but simply tucks his left arm into his chest to depict Richard’s withered arm. He creates a potent sense of Richard’s resentment and ambition when he speaks about his brother, Edward IV.

Stanton’s performance is strongly supported and enhanced by pianist Tony Gould’s evocative but unobtrusive live music. This is a simply staged but vivid depiction of the Plantagenet Kings and their bloodthirsty reigns.

By Kate Herbert

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