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A CurtainUp London Review
The Lion in Winter
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 Nunn’s production sadly fails to satisfy even as a historical pastiche comedy because it isn’t outrageous enough for 21st century humour. The majesty of Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor carried the 1968 movie but Joanna Lumley in full make up and lipstick doesn’t 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 parent’s favourite, Geoffrey (James Norton) — squabble childishly alongside King Philip of France (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and his sister Alais (Sonya Cassidy) Henry’s current mistress but promised to one of his sons.
Stephen Brimson Lewis’ 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 director’s season. The cast don’t 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.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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