Winter is here in dramatic portrayal of family dynamics and sibling rivalry
PUBLISHED: 15:26 21 January 2019 | UPDATED: 08:46 22 January 2019
Emily Perry reviews The Lion in Winter at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.
Well, it definitely felt like winter when I returned to the Barn Theatre last week.
It was cold and icy, with a clear sky and a strong moon – a perfect setting for the first production of the year, The Lion in Winter, directed by Linda Dyne.
My knowledge of Kings and Queens is pretty sketchy, so I am always intrigued by plays that explore the monarchy.
Having said that, I do understand that The Lion in Winter is a fictional portrayal of King Henry II’s announcement of his successor to the throne, and a very entertaining one it is!
It’s Christmas 1183 and what proceeds is a lively, funny, dramatic portrayal of family dynamics and sibling rivalry.
With Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor, who he’s had locked up for 10 years, his three sons and a mistress all sitting down to dinner, this could be a Christmas episode of EastEnders or Coronation Street. At times the script shoots some very funny one-line swipes.
Henry II is played by Richard Llewellyn, his Queen Eleanor (and sparring partner) is played by Jan Palmer Sayer.
It was nice to see Katherine Steed playing a very different character to her Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.
Here she plays a demure Princess Alais, betrothed to Prince Richard, but the lover of Henry.
Even she knows this might be awkward – “Henry, I can’t be your mistress if I’m married to your son”.
There is an energetic dynamic between these three characters.
The manipulation and sharp tongue of Queen Eleanor is a great contrast to young and in love Alais, though Alais is by no means a pushover.
Both women have their own agenda to get King Henry exactly where they want him.
And Llewellyn’s fine performance, with arrogant swagger and resonant voice, has you never knowing which way he’s going to go. It’s an exciting watch.
Prince Richard (Andrew Bowden), Prince John (Toby MacDonald) and Prince Geofrey (Harry Harding) were interestingly cast, with their contrasting, but equally unpleasant, personalities clearly defined.
The classic sibling swiping and competing reminded me a little of my own childhood, except there was never a crown at stake in mine!
Considering the actual ages of these actors (without upsetting anyone I suspect they are younger than they were playing) each one did a great job of convincing us that he was the man who would be King.
Alfie Hart, playing King Philip of France, turned in a good performance in what I think might have been his first main house performance, having come through Barn Youth.
The set is tastefully simple and the costumes are beautiful, so it is easy to believe we’re at a medieval Christmas party.
I always feel the quality of the sets, costumes, props, light and sound of Barn productions make a valuable contribution towards making the Barn the high quality drama venue that it is.
And I am beginning to be able to spot a Rosemary Bianchi set before even checking the programme!
• The Lion in Winter plays at the Barn Theatre in WGC until Saturday, January 26.
Evening performances are at 8pm, with a 2.30pm matinee on January 26.
Tickets for the play cost £13 from the Barn website at www.barntheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01707 324300.