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Inspired by the notion that the political intrigues behind the Wars of the Roses often seemed like playground squabbles, Jane Howell and production designer Oliver Bayldon staged the four plays in a single set resembling a children's adventure playground. However, little attempt was made at realism. For example, Bayldon did not disguise the parquet flooring ("it stops the set from literally representing [...] it reminds us we are in a modern television studio"), and in all four productions, the title of the play is displayed within the set itself (on banners in The First Part and The Second Part (where it is visible throughout the entire first scene), on a shroud in The Third Part, and written on a chalkboard by Richard himself in The Tragedy of Richard III). Many critics felt these set design choices lent the production an air of Brechtian verfremdungseffekt. See more »
Part of the trilogy plays about the reign of Henry VI by William Shakespeare, this production of Henry VI Part One introduces many of the principal characters involved in what later became the War Of The Roses. The character of Henry VI who is played by Peter Benson was the center of a lot of forces moving around him that he could not control, nor did he care to try.
Talk about the apple falling far from the tree Henry V, mighty military leader, victor at Agincourt, conqueror of France who even usurped the succession to the French crown as well who died quite suddenly when this Henry was a mere infant. His mother Catherine of France who his father appropriated as a bride as a spoils of war never went back to France. Instead she married a near do well knight named Owen Tudor and had some kids with him. The descendants of that marriage also came to rule England, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.
Henry VI had no interest at all in conquest and military matters. He was a scholar and devoutly religious. The main thing his reign is known for is the founding of Oxford College. As a minor at this point his two uncles, brothers of his father ran the realm. The Duke of Bedford played by Tenniel Evans was the regent in France and the Duke of Gloucester played by David Burke ran things at home in England.
And there were cousins galore because way back in the last century Edward III had a number of sons and the descendants of all of them eventually got to scrapping in the War Of The Roses over who would be ruler. The characters in that struggle are all introduced here.
Two things happen in Part One that are the main features of this play. The first is the story of Joan Of Arc who in Shakespeare's work is not quite the saint that future writers make her. Or that French legend has here. Remember Shakespeare was ever the English propagandist and Joan La Poucelle as she is called here is presented as the town tramp who was calling on the black arts for French success. Brenda Blethyn plays her here and this is one the Bard's great parts for women.
The second thing is also to do with a woman. For retreating and ceding conquered territory to the Dauphin Of France, a French duchess is given as a bride to Henry VI. Margaret Of Anjou is not a main character here, but English audiences in the 1590s when this play was first presented knew well of her role in the War Of The Roses. Julia Forster plays her here, a timid, but at the same time resolute woman who is looking forward to being Queen of England.
This is a good production as all the features of the Bard that the BBC did back in the day. A lot of people are Tudor fans, but personally I think nothing matches this period for double dealing intrigue.
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