REVIEW: The Houses of York and Lancaster at Cambridge Arts Theatre


Shakespeare - Credit: Gary Calton

The Globe on Tour presents The Houses of York and Lancaster (with Harry The Sixth and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York, Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays) at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, September 21 . Review by ANGELA SINGER.

POOR, inept, King Harry is on the throne and married but not so that you would notice.

Graham Butler as the timid King Henry VI, scared of his own shadow and definitely of other people’s, continues to make a virtue of self-effacement in a touching performance laced with sadness and humour.

Yet despite great performances - the sagacious strength of Mary Doherty as Queen Margaret and a masterful performance from Brendan O’Hea as Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York - the first half of The Houses of York and Lancaster is a kaleidoscope of factions and quarrels, which is dizzying to follow. It’s in danger of being a masterclass from the world’s top actors in how to die.

The trilogy wasn’t written in chronological order, there was a prequel and a sequel so what we are seeing is Shakespeare’s first play (or was it the first play he had something to do with, which is a different thing).

In the second half, however, you start recognising a Shakespeare play. It comes alive. Roger Evans who is good value as The Duke of Suffolk is a real comic treat as Jack Cade, the rebel who wants to destroy anyone who can read and write and especially “kill all the lawyers”.

The difficulty of the complex history aside, it is a privilege to see Shakespeare’s first plays presented with such aplomb and gusto and to have unveiled for us the Elizabethan preoccupation with good and consistent government. Those alive in the 20th and 21st centuries know all about that too. If good does not reign, then evil will. Sadly, it is as simple as that.

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The third play, The True Tragedy of the Duke of York, is on tonight (Thursday, September 19). All three plays will be performed on Saturday, September 21 at Cambridge Arts Theatre from noon.