THE WARS OF THE ROSES is the second of Sport for Jove’s Shakespeare Histories compendium, ROSE RIOT. It brings the audience from Henry VI, through Joan of Arc to Richard III with a boldness and bravado of accessible imagining and uniformly excellent performances. Performed, as is its sister show THE HOLLOW CROWN (SAG Review), in the openness of Bella Vista Farm, the production is a visceral experience when close to the cast in the slatted shed and a considerable exercise of intellect when royal evil is aired on an outdoor stage after interval.
It’s a stirring beginning as the infant English king is feted and shepherd girl Joan leaves her flock to meet head-on the duplicitous nature of the French court. Joan will resist until the fire and Adele Querol’s emotive rendering of Joan’s speeches mirror in the audience, the responses on the stage. It’s rousing stuff and I would fight with her! Director Damien Ryan and Fight Director Tim Dashwood craft battle sequences which are unrushed, relying on Joan’s robust physicality, big and brash. Until the slightness of the girl meets the bulk of Berynn Schwerdt’s riven John Talbot and the ensemble overwhelm her at her end.
And therein lies the difference, the intelligent variation, between these two distinct productions. Breathing new life into the well-known characters, Ryan, who is also the adaptor of the texts, leans successfully towards metaphor and symbolism. Restless ghosts will rise and the youthful incarnations of characters will join their older selves. Beginning with vile Richard and Thom Blake in a remarkable turn as the youngest of III. Aided by a brilliant costume, Blake sneers and watches with Machiavellian want. When Abe Mitchell assumes the role, Shakespeare’s version of the crooked King arises oleaginously, later to bequeath havoc wreaked to goal-driven Terry Karabelas. Excellent all.
Ducks and weaves inform Richard’s fighting as a reflection of his political manoeuvring and once again, the ensemble excels in intention and execution of every subtle symbolic and metaphoric layer. The focus of eyeline in the fights, the fickle rabble partly thralled by Jack Cade and the pinpoint entries which bring on new moods is exceptionally well done. It’s stunning work.
Under Ryan’s turbulent direction there is also room for the intimacy. In the midst of the York brothers slaughtering their way to power, Lady Grey (Brittanie Shipway) and Edward IV (Tim Walter) are sweet lovers with an extraordinary nuance in voices which reflect a softness of “blunt wooing” without any loss of audibility. Lizzie Schebesta is a sexy Margaret of Anjou before outrages compel her warlike self, leaving Wendy Strehlow to mourn and suffer. The four women are formidable in a ferocious freeze on the stairs to The Tower and late in the piece, the “telltale women” of the play, presage the impactful finale after Bosworth in a wonderfully beautiful sequence… in lovely gowns.
The costuming (Anna Gardiner) is denser here, starker, less flowery, any dullness alleviated by the odd sparkle or gold. “York’s wife’s attire!” The women’s military garb fits, a simple concept too often forgotten, so the cast have verisimilitude on their side in the production’s gender blind casting. There’s a lighting plot from Matt Cox that flicks white to blood. Pure to rose under the night sky combines with the prominence of costume black in some breathtaking imagery. Margaret keening over her dead son, lit from below, is chillingly unembellished. Music (James Peter Brown) plays a discreet role in highlighting the emotional content and sound effects like drum or birds place characters easily in an environment.
For we are taken well away from this place. Ghosts will stay the hand of Anne (Chanelle Jamieson) and torture Richard as the play comes to an end but the corporeal fun of the production engages too. “Oh geez it’s the cops” is hilarious and you don’t see the humming of ‘Girl from Ipanema’ coming! THE WARS OF THE ROSES is surprising. Volatile. Illuminating. Must-see.