Belfast Telegraph

A dark, tangled tale of spilt blood and dynastic discord

Harry the Sixth, although written last, is the first in Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy – the Globe Theatre's ambitious touring production.

Described as "a kind of medieval Star Wars" the three plays cover Henry's less than illustrious reign, which saw the loss of the English empire in France and the outbreak of dynastic war at home.

Death stalks the stage from the very start.

Drumbeats fill the air as Henry V's coffin is carried aloft, the casket decked in roses in the shape of St George's Cross.

Before long, the flag is torn asunder, as flowers are chosen – red or white – by the followers of York and Lancaster.

Buried deep in his books, the young, timid Harry remains distant from his warring lords, preferring to let the grown-ups – his protector Gloucester and the Bishop of Winchester – run the show.

As divisions appear between the houses of York and Lancaster, so cracks appear in England's relationship with France, it falls to Lord Talbot to mend the divided kingdom.

Director Nick Bagnall drums up the chaos war, as York and Lancaster clash in a storm of red and white.

Performed against Ti Green's simple, multi-functional set of twin towers of scaffolding and a towering wooden throne, the cast of 14 drum up drama and discord as they embark on battles for which England would pay dearly.

Graham Butler's Henry VI is a note of stillness in the growing mayhem.

Hunched on his wooden throne, buried deep in his books, he jumps at the sounds of conflict, and pleads with his courtiers to kiss and make up.

Brendan O'Hea's Duke of York, who sees the throne as his own, is made of sturdier stuff – smooth and calculating as a modern-day politician.

Nigel Hastings' Burgundy is another schemer, bringing the beautiful Margaret to be bride to the new king in order to gain control of the crown.

These are savage times. But the hero of this drama is neither king or warrior.

Beatriz Romilly's blunt, straight-talking Joan of Arc is made of stronger stuff than her male counterparts. It is she who leads France's attack on Henry's troops before her leadership goes up in smoke. The trilogy continues tonight and tomorrow, and you can watch history unfold by seeing all three plays in a day at the Grand Opera House on Saturday.

GRANIA MCFADDEN

Belfast Telegraph

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