REVIEW: The Lion In Winter -Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

In what is becoming an enjoyably intense three weeks of ‘live event going’, this evening saw the turn of Trevor Nunn’s new production of The Lion In Winter; currently in previews at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and starring Robert Lindsay and the FABULOUS Joanna Lumley!

Just the other night, I went to see Chicago with America Ferrera (which is ace, incidentally) and I was absolutely raving constantly about how thrilled I was to be getting to see her, and then gushed on about how I met her very briefly afterwards at stage door. However, less than 48 hours later, that massive deal has already been totally eclipsed, as it’s JOANNA LUMLEY!!!! ๐Ÿ˜€ (yes folks, this blog is a VERY fickle place, unfortunately hehe!).

I’ve been a fan of Trevor Nunn’s work for many a year, and I am glad to have had an opportunity to get to see a show that forms part of the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s ‘Trevor Nunn season’, and especially for it to have been this show – which also happens to be the one that has excited me the most, and not just owing to the casting!

The Lion in Winter

By James Goldman
Directed by Trevor Nunn

A family Christmas becomes a family at war. Henry II, not so young as he was, invites his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitane, and his three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, to spend the festive season with him, his mistress Princess Alais, and her brother, the young King Philip of France. Will Henry name who is to be his successor as King of England? Their yuletide celebration turns into a combat zone of deceit, betrayal, bitter power games and scabrous wit.

“I am excited to be directing the London premiere of a famous play about a power struggle full of sexual politics and political sex, with two such brilliant actors as Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley.” – Trevor Nunn

A play with a simply gorgeous title, set in a fab historical period, with SUCH fantastic artwork (as above), Robert Lindsay, Joanna Lumley and a Christmas setting?! What more could a lad ever ask for?!

I should also mention that I don’t normally *do* plays, I am more of a musicals fan, though when I enjoy a play, I really fall for it, hard, and so this level of pre-show excitement was definitely unprecedented.

With Joanna Lumley especially, I knew from the outset thatย  I was in for a night of intense aural pleasure! (Note the AU you filthy smutmongers! :)) – her voice is simply heavenly and her acting is always a joy to watch! (I had to fight the urge to get her to sign adoption papers bearing my name at stage door, instead begrudgingly offering up my programme, haha – more on that later!!).

Having not heard of the play previously, or seen the film version with Katherine Hepburn, I came to this production without any prior notions or basis for comparison, which, when I go to see a play, is often what I prefer, if I am honest – it makes it much easier for me to be able to enjoy it without any pre-conceived hang-ups, and permits me to take the production in as an ‘open book’.

I must say, I really liked this play!ย 

The story itself is all jolly complex, and at times it becomes almost hellish to try and follow (basically, all you need to know is that everyone is screwing everyone… quite literally! haha; also, it’s good that we’re often as confused as the characters!). In terms of the script itself (which, as an aside, you can purchase for ยฃ7 in the foyer), I actually found the play to be well written, and that the piece, as a whole, bounces along very nicely.

The only thing that, perhaps, niggles and takes away a little of the suspense (and only for those in the audience who know their history), is that one already knows that Richard The Lionheart succeeds Henry II, and that Prince John (yes, we’re in the time of Robin Hood), eventually becomes King John. Darn you history! *shakes gloved fist!* haha.

Truthfully I did find Act 1 a little more engaging, as there is a scene in Act 2 where one becomes so bewildered with the story, that it’s hard to know which way is up, and just when you think resolution is in sight, the whole thing tips back up on its head again. Having said that, I do not begrudge this production that scene in Act 2 whatsoever – if that is the script, then that is the script – what I can tell you is that the production was of a very high standard throughout, and that it is very enjoyable! ๐Ÿ™‚

Having said all that, perhaps one of my favourite scenes in the whole play, is the scene in King Phillip of France’s bedroom, it was great to see all the actors sparking off each other, in what felt like the crucial turning point of the whole story.

Speaking of the actors, I thought that everyone was brilliant! I really liked Rory Fleck-Byrne as King Phillip of France, and Tom Bateman as Prince Richard, and of course Joanna Lumley was a magnificent treat! Everyone managed to keep their wit sharp throughout and the chemistry on stage between all characters worked well, I thought.

Seeing Robert Lindsay on stage (as King Henry II) meant that I couldn’t help but compare his character to a 12th Century version of Ben Harper, from BBC One’s My Family sitcom – a lot of the expressions, tone and style of comment were very similar I felt. Not that this is in any way a criticism, not at all, just a casual observation ๐Ÿ™‚

I feel that the set design and lighting team need a massive shout out for their work on this piece – the set was truly beautiful, and I loved the manner in which scene changes happened, and the use of lighting was very effective I felt.

After the show, I slipped back to the stage door, with a hope of catching a quick autograph from Joanna Lumley, and Robert Lindsay. Alas, Robert did not put in an appearance whilst I was there, however, Joanna did, and GOSH, it was perhaps the best moment of my life!!

After about twenty minutes, and armed with her own sharpie (what a pro!), Joanna came out of the stage door and actually apologised to us for keeping us waiting – bless her!! Totally not a problem, we were all thrilled to do so, and would have hung around much longer for just a few kind moments with Joanna, I’m sure!

There weren’t too many people there tonight (which made it even more special; the small number is likely owing to the fact that the stage door is rather obscure) and so after speaking with the first group, she was very quickly on to me. She signed my programme, we had a quick chat, and she seemed very genuinely interested in what we thought (she also said to me that the ‘you were in good company tonight, the Lord Mayor is in!’ (only Joanna could be that fabulously geeky!! heh) to which I mentioned that we’d also seen Ruby Wax, and Joanna said that they were very good friends, and that Ruby may be going back a few times in the coming weeks. Finally, she was also very kind enough to pose for a couple of pictures!

All that I can say to y’all is that Joanna is every bit as lovely as she comes across in her documentaries! (I’d say ‘on TV’, but then you may think I also mean as she was as Aunt Spiker, in James and the Giant Peach, for example, hehe!). She was genuinely genuinely, amazing, very beautiful and so respectful towards the fans. Genuinely, one of the best things I’ve ever done, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!

If you have opportunity to see The Lion In Winter, I would heartily recommend that you take it up. I found it to be a very enjoyable way to pass an evening, with some top-notch talent, and some fantastic wit and banter on stage, between all characters, and which carries nicely into the audience, making us enjoy watching the performance.

The Lion In Winter is currently in previews at The Theatre Royal Haymarket, and has it’s opening night on November 15th 2011. It’s scheduled to run until 28th January 2012, and is 2 hours and 30 minutes in duration, inclusive of interval (which comes around 20:30). For further information, please see the official production website.

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About Gari

Thirty-Two year old northern lad; living out in the Peak District and rediscovering life after having had a brain tumour.

2 Responses

  1. Clive Morris

    Good stuff! Nice to hear that La Lumley is a doll. Yeah, she’d be friends with Ruby Wax; Wax co-wrote parts of Ab Fab!

    I too saw it last night, you could not fault the line reading of Lindsay or Lumley! What’s more they were just the right age for their characters, unlike with O’Toole and Hepburn in the film. That said, I’m not sure their personas were neurotic enough for the kind of dialogue and machinations the script calls for. And their sitcom history meant the witty lines didn’t catch one as darkly unawares as they might.

    I got the cheap ยฃ15 tickets on the day, which meant a first row seat with obstructed view because the stage was high. Too right, never mind The Lion in Winter, you had to be The Giraffe in Winter to see it!

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