Barewater Productions present The Lion in Winter, a political comedy telling the story of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their three sons’ fight to inherit the English throne.
Set over Christmas, the play opens with Henry II’s (Greg Jones) mistress Alais (Florence Jackson) musing over her future. There is an agreement between England and France that she marry the future English king, but no one knows who that will be. Plus she is deeply in love with the current king and doesn’t want to lose him.
Henry wants to leave the throne to his favourite son John (Louis Gale) but Eleanor (Rebecca Ozer) prefers the older, and more military minded Richard (Pete Austen). Neither of them have given any consideration to their other son Geoffrey (Jack Sanders) who is tired of being ignored and is now determined to be noticed.
When King Phillip of France (Joe Lindley) arrives demanding that his sister’s marriage to the heir to the throne takes place or her dowry be returned, he triggers a sequence of events which may change the royal family forever.
The audience were shown to their seats by three servants (Alivia Yemm, Jessica Hearn and Paulina Davey) creating a slightly immersive experience. These servants also did all the set changes throughout the play which was a very nice touch. Programmes were wax sealed, which was a lovely nod to the period.
The period costumes were stained with mud and blood, cleverly alluding to the mess that the royal court has found itself in. Traditional holly decorations enhanced the period details and touches of sparkling jewellery and sharpened swords and knives brought the medieval castle to life. Lighting was used well to indicate mood and sound effects created a sense of realism and place.
The whole of the cast were young and the decision had bravely been taken to not use any ageing make up meaning the advanced years of Henry II and Eleanor entirely relied on the actors’ portrayals. Although a little disorientating at first, it did not take long for Jones and Ozer to establish themselves as the parents of the younger characters. Ozer is particularly to be praised for her poise and confidence as the older queen which was entirely believable.
Jones’ performance as the king was loud, proud and arrogant and his presence created a regal atmosphere which left many of the other characters quaking. Austen’s Richard reflected many elements of Jones performance creating a sense of balance and a very powerful atmosphere.
Gale’s clownish portrayal of John was excellent for both its physical comedy and petulant childlike elements. A difficult role to play, given that it is written as the very opposite of most princes, Gale gave the role a nervous, twitchy quality and a shrieking immature tone that made it very funny and very real.
Sanders’ portrayal as Geoffrey was remarkably modern and felt like a contemporary, slimy, lying politician. His desperation for attention was palpable, but his presence remained aloof and nonchalant, producing a fully rounded character.
The cast were well supported by Yemm, Hearn and Davey, whose moods quickly switched between nosy, fearful, knowing and amused, cleverly linking them to the audience watching the events play out.
This was a fantastic play about court intrigue, betrayals and backstabbings. In a story where everyone has something they want and something to lose, the stakes are high and the energy of the performance makes this very clear throughout. Reflecting contemporary politics in many ways, the show is surprisingly relevant for today’s world. But not everyone can get what they want, and it soon becomes clear that perhaps no one will.
Barewater Productions aim to create immersive entertainment experiences in a collaborative environment that values everyone involved. You can find out more about them and their forthcoming performances on their website or by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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