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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Lion in Winter

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So the royal corkscrew finds me twisted! — Richard
The Lion in Winter
Joanna Lumley as Eleanor and Robert Lindsay as Henry
(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
There is an underlying problem with James Goldman's The Lion in Winter. Either it is a play of historical significance and you have to believe that you are looking at the 12th century king of England and the former queen of France or it is a satire, a spoof with a mere basis in history like Spamalot or the hugely popular BBC Blackadder series. The play seems to fall between these two genres.

The modern language and the obvious anachronisms kill the historically authentic view, not to mention the makeup and the modern looking fabrics of the costumes. For instance, we are told that Prince Albert Consort to Queen Victoria brought the Christmas tree to England in the mid 1800s but here in the court of Henry Plantagenet in 1183 there is a Christmas tree and Eleanor (Joanna Lumley) asks whether someone has rehearsed this rather than improvised it. The anachronisms are in the script but a skilful production might have glossed them over. A programme note from the author tells us that he is aware of them and they are deliberate. What they do though is to irritate and distract from the main plot.

Trevor Nunnís production sadly fails to satisfy even as a historical pastiche comedy because it isnít outrageous enough for 21st century humour. The majesty of Peter OíToole as Henry II and Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor carried the 1968 movie but Joanna Lumley in full make up and lipstick doesnít convince as the aging Eleanor, the wife who was 11 years older than her husband. The three sons — Richard, later the Lionheart (Tom Bateman) and the youngest John, later Bad King John (Joseph Drake) and the little known and nether parentís favourite, Geoffrey (James Norton) — squabble childishly alongside King Philip of France (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and his sister Alais (Sonya Cassidy) Henryís current mistress but promised to one of his sons.

Stephen Brimson Lewisí sets have the grand stone carved Norman arches of Chinon Castle in France and sumptuously swagged curtains but the sets alone cannot convey mediaeval atmosphere. This has been brought into the Haymarket for the Christmas market on the popularity of Joanna Lumley and Robert Lindsay but I cannot understand what made Trevor Nunn want to do it in his directorís season. The cast donít really stand a chance with the weakness of the script and the lack of subtlety of the characterisation. Robert Lindsay is an excellent stage actor and tries hard hampered by a mullet hairstyle but Joanna Lumley sadly is never anything except herself on a very sarcastic day.

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The Lion in Winter
Written by James Goldman
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley
With: Tom Bateman, James Norton, Joseph Drake, Rory Fleck-Byrne, Sonya Cassidy
Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Music: Steven Edis
Running time: Two hours 25 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0845 481 1870
Booking to 28th January 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16 November 2011 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1Y 4HT (Tube: Piccadilly Circus )

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