Bloody Royal revue sketch becomes a drag

Review by Paul Nelson


PICTURE, if you will, a man of such immense popular appeal that he can do no wrong. He is adored by the populace - he thinks, adored by his intimate friends, his wife, his followers and, of course, he is adored by himself.

However, there are rumblings. Some of his ardent followers are beginning to murmur. They have put him where he is. They are expecting changes. Ugly words like social reform, pensions, employment, even hospitals and education raise their ugly heads. The adoring populace is becoming uneasy.

What is needed is another war. After which the populace can be assured of employment, and in the delirium of victory, everything they require can be implemented.

Does this remind you of someone?

In Blood Royal, at the King's Head in Upper Street, Islington, we are of course talking about Henry V.

Some time after Agincourt, a French wife with a roving eye by his side, poor old Hal is being haunted by his own speeches that united the country behind him.

Therefore up comes Sid the swineherd, who claims "these wounds I had on Crispian's day", further, after stripping his sleeve and showing his scars, he goes on to quote "he that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, be he ne'er so vile".

Well, they don't come more vile than Sid. He stinks, as a swineherd would, and he proclaims himself the Duke of Ware, worms his way into the King's favour, in spite of the Earl of Westmoreland's forebodings and, then as now, as is usual with the unwanted at court, is plotted against.

This play then goes on to delineate the infidelities of Queen Katherine with Westmoreland and Sid, the faithfulness of her Lady in Waiting, Ann, and the plots against poor dupe Sid, and his mate Walt the ploughman.

With this as a basic fabric, the play therefore gives rise to many amusing lines apropos the government of our day.

It gives a splendid opportunity to each member of the cast, and they take it well within their stride, each one acquitting himself with excellence.

The problem is that it is nothing more than an extended revue sketch. The first 10 minutes setting the scene are amusing, many of the lines are blindingly funny, but the whole becomes a complete drag.

However, it is pretty to look at with set and costumes echoing the Olivier film of Henry V apart from possibly the earliest onion dome in western Europe, and has a soundtrack which plays a quite important part.

Mercifully for the excellent cast though, it is short. They bang their lines over to a very willing and receptive audience, but the gags take ages to set up and are sign posted, or they are of such a lightning speed that they take the audience and the cast by surprise. This to me spells a director who requires foresight or who ought to hold more rehearsals after the play has been performed before an audience for at least a couple of times. The effect of the sometimes brilliant dialogue should not come to the director as a surprise, which patently it does. There is a lack of shape and purpose to the play which he must address.

As I say it is mercifully short. It gives the impression of being aimed at the 'in' crowd. Therefore, if you are not 'in', I suggest you stay out.

Blood Royal by Charles Thomas. Directed by Ted Craig. Set design Cleo Pettitt, Costume Design Mia Flodquist, Lighting James Whiteside, Sound Sev Lewkowicz.
WITH: Robert Beck (Henry V), Anthony Biggs (Earl of Westmoreland), Lara Cazalet (Queen Katherine), John Cormack (Sentry), Laura Jones (Ann, Lady in Waiting), Dickon Tolson (Walt, the Ploughman), Tat Whalley (Sid, the Swineherd), Louisa Lytton / Aisling Jarrett-Gavin (Jeanne).
Produced by Fumiko Thomas Productions at The King's Head Theatre, Upper Street, Islington. 020 7226 1916.