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Reviewed by:
  • The Wars of the Roses, and: Henry VI, and: Edward IV, and: Richard III
  • Kate Wilkinson
The Wars of the Roses. Presented by Northern Broadsides at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. March 24-April 22, 2006. Directed and Adapted by Barrie Rutter. Music by Conrad Nelson. Designed by Jessica Worrall. Lighting by Tim Skelly.
Henry VI Dicken Ashworth (Gloucester), Tim Barker (Bedford, Mortimer, Salisbury), Roy North (Exeter, Simpcox), Bernard Merrick (Winchester), Mark Stratton (Talbot, Buckingham), Barrie Rutter (York), Phil Corbitt (Warwick), Andrew Cryer (Suffolk), Dave Newman (Somerset), John Gully (Dauphin of France, Lieutenant), Andrew Whitehead (Henry VI), Danny Burns (John Talbot, Peter), Matt Connor (Messenger, Bolingbroke), Maeve Larkin (Joan of Arc), Helen Sheals (Queen Margaret).
Edward IV Barrie Rutter (York), Phil Corbitt (Warwick), Andrew Cryer (Cade), Dave Newman (Somerset), John Gully (Clarence), Richard Standing (Edward IV), Andrew Whitehead (Henry VI), Conrad Nelson (Richard), Danny Burns (Prince Edward), Matt Connor (Rutland), Kate Williamson (Lady Grey), Helen Sheals (Queen Margaret).
Richard III Mark Stratton (Buckingham), Andrew Cryer (Catesby), Dave Newman (Richmond), Simon Holland Roberts (Hastings), John Gully (Clarence, Tyrrell), Richard Standing (Edward IV), Conrad Nelson (Richard III), Roger Burnett (Rivers), Maeve Larkin (Anne), Kate Williamson (Queen Elizabeth), Jacqueline Redgewell (Duchess of York), Helen Sheals (Queen Margaret).

The Wars of the Roses at the West Yorkshire Playhouse was a new adaptation by Barrie Rutter, the founder and artistic director of Yorkshire-based theatre company Northern Broadsides. The company is made up of actors from the north of England, specifically, and rather fittingly for this cycle of Shakespeare's first tetralogy, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Styled as Henry VI and Edward IV, the first two parts of the three-play cycle amalgamated the three Henry VI plays; the final play, Richard III, was Shakespeare's play as it is usually seen.

The stage was the same for the three parts: a large, sandy colored thrust with two set pieces consisting of concrete plinths upstage right and a scaffolding balcony upstage left. Although on first entrance the set appeared like a building site, it is perhaps more appropriate to refer to it as a renovation site, a ruined building being refurbished, a work in progress. The costuming for the first two productions was working-clothes—tunics and trousers; lords wore long coats, each identified by a symbol on the left breast representing his seat. Although perhaps suggesting Celtic clothing, the costumes were actually difficult to place in time; Margaret for example looked rather modern in her military garb. The costumes changed to modern dress for Richard III, characters now wearing smart suits. Juxtaposed with the unchanging set, these costumes created a sense of history as an ongoing story that reinvents itself; the characters were transitory and impermanent, acting within a larger, more determined temporal scheme. The three plays represented a unified whole: [End Page 114]

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Figure 1.

Maeve Larkin (Joan) in Northern Broadsides's production of Henry VI. Photographer Nobby Clark.

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Figure 2.

A battle scene in Northern Broadsides's production of Edward IV. Photographer Nobby Clark.

[End Page 115]

the pieces overlapped, particularly in the adaptation of Henry VI, and they were clearly envisaged as a cycle rather than discrete plays. Rutter's title of The Wars of the Roses was apt in that the three productions were closely focused on representing the background to the civil wars, the civil war itself, and its after-effects: other extraneous events, such as the war in France, were reduced to the absolute minimum necessary.

The first half of Henry VI offered a rapid succession of scenes to illustrate historical background. The scenes in France were mostly reduced to one-on-one fights between Talbot and Joan. The production at this point offered a kind of cartoon history: the plot was significantly reduced while continuing to represent a large part of English history. An abstract representation of battles was established here using dancing and music rather than hand-to-hand combat or sword-fighting. This characterized the fighting throughout Rutter's trilogy; in this instance the battles involved Talbot being wheeled around on a simple wooden chariot while Joan clog-danced around...


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