I didn’t get up yesterday planning to see this, but a colleague taking a group of students had a spare ticket. There was some drama on the train up when a drunk engaged with some of the students (it’s never dull with the performing arts department) but my colleague diffused the situation with impressive ease.
The production itself was excellent. I saw the Mark Rylance production when it was shown live on BBC4 and thought it wonderful. Last night’s production used huge plasma screens to display newsreel footage of the action on stage with a wonderfully simple set that featured a debating chamber oak panelled waiting rooms remniscent of the houses of parliament in a simply furnished, large, modern-looking space. The combination of this superb design with equally first rate lighting conveyed the sense of New Labour slickness contrasting with the trappings of an ancient consitutional system (“traditional values in a modern setting”). This clever exploration of the distance between the image of a monarch and the failings of a man all too aware of that image seemed particularly appropriate in the week of the Labour party conference. The only critisicm I had was of Act 5 Scene II, which felt a little like an episode of a sitcom “Life with the Yorks”. Kevin Spacey was captivating as the slight but powerful King, as was Ben Miles as collected, vengeful Bolingbroke.
The students even stayed awake thoughout.