Royal Exchange, Manchester – until 6 October 2018
Queen Margaret features heavily in four of Shakespeare’s history plays – the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III, yet she’s a character that we never really fully understand. In this new version, playwright Jeanie O’Hare cleverly weaves Shakespeare’s original language with her own to tell the story of the formidable Margaret of Anjou.
Littered with straight-talking wit and 21st-century flair, O’Hare’s text is nothing short of superb. Blending Shakespeare’s poetic verse with O’Hare’s own words must have been quite a challenge, yet nothing feels jarred or disjointed.
Following the solid reign of King Henry V, his son proves to be a reluctant leader; weak and faltering, Henry VI struggles to keep his court in order. There is mounting unease between his lords and murmurs from the Yorkists who believe that they have an entitlement to the throne following the usurpation of Richard II, by Henry’s grandfather.
Leaving behind her home country of France, Margaret marries Henry and soon proves to be the more able and resolute leader. Dubbed the She-Wolf of France, Margaret is frequently reminded of her French roots and the bitterness surrounding the Battle of Agincourt by the ghost of Joan of Arc, played beautifully by Lucy Mangan.
Jade Anouka is a tour de force as Queen Margaret – utterly compelling – from her first appearance as the young Queen through to the fiery and powerful matriarch and warrior. Commanding the stage – if looks could kill – she’s got that spot on. Alternatively, Max Runham’s Henry gives a pleasing contrast – jittery, child-like and worried to death, literally.
The cast of 11 give outstanding performances – Helena Lymbery as Hume deserves a special mention – carrying the narrative throughout, she announces each scene and provides humorous interjections, connecting the audience to the action.
Queen Margaret is an extraordinary production which combines the insight and depth of a Shakespearian history play with contemporary humour and ingenuity. Jeanie O’Hare’s writing is a complete success and the remarkable cast bring out every word, beat, nuance and look.
Queen Margaret runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until 6 October 2018.
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