‘The First Henry’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by February 19, 2015

‘The First Henry’ is an exciting, very well written drama, from the pen of award-winning playwright, Carl Aspden Pomfret. In the past, this local author has scripted for stage and screen. A previous production by Carl won the Independent Theatre Association’s People’s Choice award, along with a Best Direction award at The Hills Festival.

A couple of co-incidences? Pomfret Castle is the location of Scene V in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’; and in the mid-17th century, John Pomfret was a famous poet and journalist.

The Kalamunda Dramatic Society is proudly presenting this two and a half hour, highly entertaining, adult drama at the KADS Town Square Theatre, Barber Street, Kalamunda. The play starts at 8.00 pm on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, and the season runs until Saturday 7th March. Sunday Matinees start 2.00 pm.

 

There are two castle based sets, complete with wrought iron candleholders, rustic furniture and wall tapestries.

The first castle has cleverly designed ‘thick’ walls, and a beautifully painted heraldic picture on the wall. The second castle, in France, has a convincing, well-bossed, arched window and a large fireplace. Excellent design and construction by Alastair Woodcock, with superb props, medieval swords and daggers sourced by Karen Woodcock.

The lighting was designed and operated by James Glasson and Stephen Marr. The soundscape by Lesley Broughton, Lindsay Goodwin and Tim Edwards.

 

A little basic history. In 1066, William the Conqueror sailed across to England from Normandy, in north-west France. He killed Harold and became King William l of England. When he died in 1087, although he had three sons, he decided to divide his land only between the two French born sons. William Rufus got England and his brother Robert Curthose received Normandy.

The favourite son, Rufus – now William ll – squandered his inheritance, and then screwed every penny out of his subjects. ‘Fatty’ Robert, who detested his father, refused to carry on his father’s work and burned down many estates in Normandy, before settling in Domfront Castle near St Malo. The third son, the sickly Henry was born in England, and despite being, the only one to attend his father, William the Conqueror’s funeral, received nothing.

 

       It is the 1095 in Taunton (?)Castle. The lord of the manor, William Gifford (Kim Taylor), is talking to his Welsh friend, Gilbert of Clare (Keith Scrivens) – from a castle near Caerphilly. Neither of them is happy with the performance or attitude of Red Rufus (as King William ll was known). Rufus (Joe Isaia) has commandeered a third of England’s forest, is constantly the worse for drink and generally enjoys the highlife to excess. They decide he must go, but which brother should replace him, Robert (John Pomfret) or Henry (Rodney van Groningen)?

      In the north, a Scottish army led by King Malcolm lll of Scotland (of ‘Macbeth’ fame, generally known in England as Malcolm Canmore – Canmore being Gaelic for ‘big head’) is nibbling away at England and has just conquered Cumberland. Gilbert especially would be most happy to see the Scots move south and kill Rufus. Whilst Gifford and Gilbert plot Rufus’ overthrow, a guard (a cameo appearance by the author / director, Carl Pomfret) is put on the door.

       The Second Act sees us across the Chanel in France, at Robert’s home Domfront Castle. The third brother, impoverished Henry Beauclerc (who is quite ill from stress and eating lamprey – a sand eel) sounds out Robert to see if they should kill their regal brother and take over the Crown of England. The powerful guards are called in to help, the Captain (Jason Millman) and his chain-mailed guard (Owen Davis). The pathetic and weak attendant, Peter (Luke Heath) is allotted to look after the King on his imminent visit.

       Will treacherous Rufus continue as King? On the other hand, will he be overthrown by sibling rivalry?

 

I have to admit that I really did not want to see this play. I did not fancy two hours of heavy Shakespearean style dialogue and a pedantic story, ploughing endlessly on. Instead, I REALLY enjoyed this play. The magnificent cast delivered the fascinating and exciting story superbly. At no time did the pace drop, and not once did the audience feel lectured to, by being fed endless facts. The storyline was rough tough and thrilling. With virtually no violence, the excitement came from the richly written dialogue and the perfect delivery. Three brothers with very different personalities, all of them a little unstable due to their paternal upbringing; this demanded a great deal of talent from the performers, but they fulfilled the demand easily.

A very minor point, I thought the spotlight for the monologues did not really work. Had they been soliloquies, with no response from the other actors in the scene, then it would have been a good idea.

Rarely is the writer successful directing his own work, but in this case, Carl did an outstanding job.

This is a most enjoyable play, beautifully written, superb acting and with quality costumes and set. Do not be put off by the topic, be sure to see it. EXCELLENT.