To begin this splendid evocation of England's [or rather, Shakespeare's] Kings imaginatively and skilfully devised and directed by Ben Horslen and John Risebero, we are at once put in the right mood by the set. Smoke and candle-light and the dangerous throne, with the abandoned royal robe flung upon it suggest grandeur and the threat to come.

Aptly there follows the Prologue to Henry V - where we are enjoined to 'think when we talk of horses that you see them.... for 'tis your thoughts that must deck our Kings.' And at once we are caught up in the confrontation between Richard II and Bolingbroke and we are clear - if we were ever in any doubt - that these are hazardous times and kingship a dangerous pursuit. The Narrators give us brief and valuable links between the lively and most often doomed periods of reign. The cast of fifteen [male and female] is multi-talented - each in his own time plays many parts, and I cannot name them all, but each one blended perfectly with the whole. Again and again the great lines come through - 'within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a King keeps Death his court' - and so it proves to be. We see one upon another the crown lifted high in the lighted smoke and placed upon the head of another man who has risen by fair means or foul, and in time will fall.

Of course it is not all triumph and tragedy. The reign of Henry IV brings us Eastcheap and Falstaff [most tellingly portrayed by Peter Mair] and there is the charming scene with the French Katherine [to be the Fifth Henry's Queen] trying - without much success - to learn English. Angela Gardner giving us an impressive ripple of French.

Ben Horslen's Prince Hal is strong and persuasive - he moves smoothly from the dissolute youth to the King who triumphs at Agincourt. The King casts a shadow on us when he disowns Falstaff, but he retrieves himself, let's say, on the eve of Agincourt, when he goes amongst his soldiers with 'a little touch of Harry in the night'. A haunting scene.

Battles and triumphs, evoked by sound and music - and the fall of another King. And so we come to one of the most fascinating of Shakespeare's Kings - Richard III. Of course, there are those who might wonder what Shakespeare's Kings would have made of Shakespeare? Historians cast doubt on whether Richard murdered the Princes in the Tower, and indeed even if he was in any way deformed. And it is fairly probable that they did not speak in those magnificent cadences which it was our pleasure to hear.

Bill Risebero however gives us such a splendid King that we can cast our doubts aside. His dark humour, his wooing of Anne, his mock religion [when he has his prayer book upside down] his pursuit of gain at whatever cost is relentlessly explored - till in the end he is visited on the eve of battle by the ghosts of those he has murdered and betrayed. A bad omen and he is dismounted: 'My Kingdom for a horse!' dies upon the air, and it is time for another King, and for a time, peace.

In recollection, certain quiet scenes remain in the mind. Judy Burgess lamenting Falstaff's death; Tyrrel speaking of the Princes in the Tower. Light, sound, music and costume were most skilfully blended to make this a vivid experience. We leave the Church with the glorious phrases and the coloured memory of regal splendour - and of the darkness at the end of things to which all men - even Kings - must come. 'Keeps Death his court .... and with a little pin Bores through his castle wall, and farewell King! At the end of the performance a dagger lay at my feet which seemed an apt enough symbol.

The performance was brought about through the dark day of 7/7. 'Conceived of necessity and executed in haste' the programme tells us. All the more credit then to a fine and powerful - one might say crowning achievement, and one in which we were able to welcome David Gardner back into his rightful place and voice.


Diana Raymond | January 2006

This review is taken from the February 2006 Hampstead Parish Church Magazine.