Theatre Review: The Lion In Winter

James Goldman gives us familial insight into Henry II; Eleanor of Aquitaine; Prince John; Richard the Lionheart; Geoffrey, Count of Brittany; Alais Capet; and Philip of France.

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Matthew Randell (Henry II) and Celine O’Leary (Eleanor of Aquitaine) in Therry’s “The Lion In Winter”.

Presented by Therry Dramatic Society
Reviewed 21 August 2015

If English History has taught us anything, it’s that the royal families throughout history invented the phrase ‘dysfunctional family’ without ever knowing it. The perfect perpetrators of this popular phrase would probably have to be the Plantagenets – at least if James Goldman’s play The Lion In Winter is anything to go by.

Taking actual historical events from various times in Henry II’s life and combining them into one time and place – Christmas 1183, at the Castle at Chinon – Goldman gives us familial insight into Henry II; his exiled and imprisoned wife (whom he has allowed to come home for the holidays), Eleanor of Aquitaine; and his three surviving sons, Prince John (yes, THAT Prince John), Richard the Lionheart (yes, THAT Richard the Lionheart), and Geoffrey, Count of Brittany; with Henry’s mistress and John’s promised wife-to-be, Alais (I said they were dysfunctional), and her brother, King Philip of France thrown in for good measure.

There are power plays and struggles, murder plots and mind games, and a small sprinkling of incest and homosexuality (all the ingredients for a nice family Christmas) by the wine-barrelful as Henry decides to pick which son will become the next King of England after he has passed (see what we miss out on with the Windsors just handing it over to the eldest child of each generation). Henry favours John, whilst Richard is Eleanor’s favourite: sibling rivalry at its best!

Goldman’s script is dramatic, powerful and witty enough to have made it a contemporary classic: but put it in the skilled hands of director Megan Dansie and it sparkles and shines like a newly polished royal crown. Dansie has a very fine eye when it comes to historical accuracy and detail, powerful moments, beautiful theatrical visions and casting correctly. Her eye has worked well with this absolutely wonderful, highly entertaining, and colourful (thanks to her very appropriate historical costuming) night of theatre.

While Richard Parkhill’s lighting design is his normal, nicely unobtrusive standard, his lighting of the wine cellar scene surpasses even his usual brilliance.

Matthew Randell as Henry II is commanding in stature, maturely handsome in looks, and has one of the most powerful, beautifully articulated speaking voices you could ever wish for. He is entirely believable as both king and father, with his breakdown at the end of Act One spot on. His anguish in Act Two, however, is just a tad over-melodramatic for this reviewer’s liking.

Celine O’Leary IS Eleanor from go to woe, and never delivers a move or inflection incorrectly. O’Leary has the softness and warmth of a mother, the power of a queen and the fragility of a woman all down pat. Sounding a little like Deborah Kerr, this is one of those powerhouse performances not to be missed.

l to r: Nick Duddy (Prince John), Aaron McDonald (Geoffrey), Jonathan Pheasant (Richard the Lionheart) in Therry's "The Lion In Winter"
l to r: Nick Duddy (Prince John), Aaron McDonald (Geoffrey), Jonathan Pheasant (Richard the Lionheart) in Therry’s “The Lion In Winter”

Newcomer Nick Duddy is nicely repugnant and childish as pimply-faced Prince John, and believe me, Adelaide audiences will be seeing a lot more of this young actor in many future roles (or there is no Theatre God!). As Richard, Jonathan Pheasant, in what could be a mediocre role, vitalises the part with his warrior-like attitude and honest steadfastness. It’s good to see Aaron McDonald back on stage and in such a deliciously acerbic role as Geoffrey – the part could have been written for him. McDonald’s wryness and arrogance as Geoffrey are superb.

Ellie McPhee as Alais gives a lovely performance, with just the right amounts of girlishness and guile combined; whilst Robert Bell gives yet another of his excellent performances as the slightly pouting boy-king, Philip – is there no stopping this young actor!?!

This lion roars and is most certainly the King of the jungle (well, Adelaide at least). Do yourself a right royal favour, sell your crown jewels, abdicate or whatever you need to do to get to see this extremely regal production of The Lion In Winter

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Twitter: @briangods

Venue: The Arts Theatre  53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 20 – 28 August 2015
Duration: 2 hours 30 mins (including interval)
Tickets: $12.00 – $27.00
Bookings: phone 8410 5515 (12 noon to 7 pm Mondays to Saturdays)
 Trybooking website (30c per ticket fee applies)
BASS (booking and services fees apply)

Official Therry Dramatic Society website

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