The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

Round­house, Lon­don NW1

FORTHOSEwhograbthis­rarechance to see all of Shake­speare’s his­tory plays in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, the three-week gap be­tween the first and sec­ond half of the RSC’s eight-play marathon will come as an un­wel­come dis­trac­tion.

That the au­di­ence’s sigh at the end of the first four plays was more out of sat­is­fac­tion than ex­haus­tion says a lot about how the RSC’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Michael Boyd looks for, and reg­u­larly finds, ex­hil­a­rat­ing coups in his stag­ing. His pro­duc­tions — its kings and its bat­tles — stalk the Round­house’s stage, spilling into and out of the stalls. If there is a theme to his pro­duc­tion it is sus­pense, in both senses of the word.

The stan­dard is set with Jonathan Slinger’s heav­ily made-up Richard II — al­most a drag-queen king, his mouth a lip­sticked ric­tus — who in­ter­cedes when Clive Wood’s bruiser Bol­ing­broke and John Mackay’s Mow­bray al­most col­lide in a heart-stop­ping joust.

Three plays later, in Henry V, the dan­di­fied French aris­toc­racy laze ar­ro­gantly in sus­pended trapezes be­fore Ge­of­frey Streat­field’s boy­ish Hal lays waste to their knights at Agin­court.

There is no ob­vi­ous at­tempt here to high­light the rel­e­vance of th­ese his­tory plays to mod­ern times. But when Hal de­clares the ca­su­al­ties — 10,000 French and less than 30 English — the sta­tis­tics, and sense of shame, chimed with the re­cently an­nounced Tal­iban and Bri­tish ca­su­al­ties in Afghanistan.

The star per­for­mance is un­doubt­edly David Warner’s Fal­staff, im­bued with just enough mal­ice to jus­tify Hal’s cruel re­jec­tion. The next in­stal­ment — the three parts of Henry VI fol­lowed by Slinger’s Richard III — can­not come soon enough. ( Tel: 0844 482 8008)

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