‘The Lion in Winter’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by June 28, 2018

‘The Lion in Winter’ was an Oscar winning play from Chicago-born playwright, James Adolf Goldman. The story is based on real historical characters, although the dialogue and events are fictional. James’ brother William was also a screenwriter, and he won two Oscars.

This two and a half hour, commanding production by the Darlington Theatre Players can be seen at the Marloo Theatre just off Greenmount Hill near Mundaring. Performances are on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7.30, until Saturday the 14th July. The Sunday matinées are on 1st and 8th July at 2.00 pm. Tickets are at sensible prices.

 

The main sets: Chinon Castle’s reception hall, Eleanor’s bed chamber, Philip’s chamber, Henry’s chamber and the wine cellar. These four major sets were designed by George Boyd, Brendan Tobin and Graeme Dick. This team never settles for ‘basic’; the walls looked like genuine limestone blocks, with an arched doorway and rounded recesses in the walls. The doorsteps are dark grey slate. Set Construction was by the designers, and Michael Hart, Michael Vincent, Peter White, Sam White, Adrian Ashman and Owen Davis.

In Philip’s chamber is a curtained, rude teak, four-poster bed. In Alais’ room, is a narrow, single oak bed, with an impressive headboard. The quality furniture and wrought iron properties were thanks to George Boyd and Graeme Dick.

Michael Hart’s lighting design included night scenes and the flickering glow of a large fire.

The sound was designed by Mike Smale, who also operated the lighting and sound.

Stage Manager Graeme Dick and his assistant, Christine Offlinger swiftly carried out the well-planned scene changes, dressed as medieval servants. For the larger scene changes, the cast helped.

 

The scene: Christmas Eve 1183 at the French Royal Fortress, Chateau Chinon, situated between Poitiers and Le Mans in North West France.

     King Henry II (Tim Fraser) – thanks to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings – is now King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, and now, by marrying Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Siobhan Vincent) is King of Aquitaine – the whole area in the West of France, from the English Channel to the Spanish border.

     Being the Count of Anjou, Henry is staying at his castle in Chinon for Christmas. The King has become estranged from his tough, manipulating wife – a beautiful, French cougar, 10 years older than her English husband – who has been a queen for nearly 46 years. Feeling threatened by this controlling woman, Henry has had her imprisoned for the past ten years, but has kindly let her out – temporarily – for a Christmas break. The two get huge pleasure provoking each other.

      Whilst Eleanor has been in prison, Henry has taken a mistress, his innocent ‘niece’ Alais Capet (Rhiannon Cary) who is loved by the 16 year old, immature, wimpish, spoiled, hot tempered, morose and sullen Prince John (Jonathan Hoey). John is the youngest, but favourite son of Henry and Eleanor. He is ‘pimply and smells of compost’. Alais, however, is not as mild as she appears; she is quite ruthless and in love with Henry for a reason.

      Eleanor and Henry have three ‘full’ sons between them; Richard, Geoffrey, and John. Eleanor despises her children, and yet is still protective of them. The icy and calculating, suave Geoffrey (Gavin Crane), who owns and rules Brittany in North West France, manipulates his youngest brother, John. The handsome, war-mongering gay, is Richard the Lionheart (Rhett Clarke), the eldest son who is in love with Philip II Augustus Capet (Thomas McCracken), who has been King of France since he was 15.

      Philip and his half-sister is Alais, want England in their French empire.

      Eleanor has had a few other ‘keep it in the family’ partners.

      With everyone trying to manipulate Henry for their own benefit, who will actually win the King’s crown?

 

Marjorie DeCaux’s superb medieval costumes comprised a large range of gowns, with various surcoats and overdresses, all of the highest standard. Henry had a rustic outfit, but Richard had an impressive Crusader’s outfit. Philip was most regal. Many congratulation to Marjorie, Lynda Stubbs, Shelly Miller, Yvonne Miller and Sharon Zuiddam for their excellent thread work.

Director Lynne Devenish, as always, has obviously explained to the cast the story behind the story, along with the intricate historical connections and relationships. This knowledge then allowed the cast to put all of their efforts into delivering the script with confidence. At times the dialogue became quite heated, but the enunciation was still clear. The pace was perfect throughout.

Henry had to show his determination and strength, with power and authority, yet hinting at how aware and susceptible he was to attack. Eleanor, the old viper, could switch between a simpering weak woman and her real character of being a fiery manipulator. The exchanges between Henry and Eleanor were special pieces of theatre – engrossing and at times leaving the audience breathless.

What a magnificent show, packed with first class drama, comedy and action. The two leads are amazing and outstanding, and they were backed by a very strong cast. A difficult show to stage, but handled perfectly by Lynne Devenish. Give the cast a standing ovation at the end – they deserve it!