Theatre Review: QUEEN MARGARET – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Jade Anouka as Margaret of Anjou in QUEEN MARGARET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Jade Anouka as Margaret of Anjou in QUEEN MARGARET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Blending authentic Shakespearean text with newly crafted dialogue, Jeanie O’Hare’s QUEEN MARGARET is an ambitious and modern exploration of the War of the Roses

It’s been a long journey for Jeanie O’Hare to bring QUEEN MARGARET to the stage. Since 2006, the playwright has been playing with the idea of bringing Margaret of Anjou’s story to the stage but it wasn’t until her collaboration with Director Elizabeth Freestone that her vision was finally brought to life.

Created with original Shakespeare text, QUEEN MARGARET retells the War of the Roses through the eye of Margaret of Anjou, the formidable wife of Henry VI. Hungry for power and angered by their King, the men of Henry VI’s court plot and scheme against each other. As the King wavers and the factions split, Queen Margaret is determined to hold on to power and protect the crown that will one day belong to her son.

The cast of QUEEN MARGARET at Royal Exchange Theatre. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The cast of QUEEN MARGARET at Royal Exchange Theatre. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Blending authentic Shakespearean text with newly crafted dialogue, O’Hare takes Shakespeare’s neglected women out of the shadows and puts them centre stage in QUEEN MARGARET. Using all the lines spoken by Queen Margaret over four existing Shakespeare plays (HENRY IV parts one, two and three and RICHARD III), O’Hare, together with Director Elizabeth Freestone, has crafted a captivating historical drama, sliced through with 21st-century wit.

In many ways, QUEEN MARGARET feels like a classic Shakespeare play. Written with a pentameter beat and some rhyming couplets, O’Hare’s lines sit so comfortably alongside those of the original text that it’s almost impossible to identify where Shakespeare ends and O’Hare begins. Yet, this is a very modern piece. Here, contemporary references and satire are used to deliver a 21st Century take on civil strife and power struggles as the sons of the female Duke of York sit on bean bags playing computer games while arguing over the succession.

Jade Anouka as Margaret of Anjou and Max Runham as Henry VI in QUEEN MARGARET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Jade Anouka as Margaret of Anjou and Max Runham as Henry VI in QUEEN MARGARET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

In the role of Margaret of Anjou, Jade Anouka is a tour-de-force, portraying the Queen’s journey from naive princess to the fierce matriarch with ease, power and great humour. Elsewhere, Max Runham is convincing as the politically and physically weak Henry VI, successfully conveying the King’s stoicism and vulnerability. Helena Lymbery also steals several scenes as Hulme, the narrator who acts as Margaret’s “common sense”.

Yet, while Freestone’s pacy direction brings drama to the battle scenes, there is a denseness to the early sections which weighs down the proceedings and long scenes of speech, particularly in the first half, which has a tendency to drag. This is an intense and wordy play which can make it difficult to watch at times and at just over three hours long (including a 20-minute interval), you begin to feel it could benefit from a bit of tightening up here and there.

The cast of QUEEN MARGARET at Royal Exchange Theatre. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The cast of QUEEN MARGARET at Royal Exchange Theatre. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

That said, there is much to enjoy in Margaret finally getting her chance to shine as a majestic protagonist in her own right. Amanda Stoodley’s minimalist set design, together with Johanna Town’s striking lighting design, also makes excellent use of the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round space to bring tension and drama to the corrupt game-playing court.

An ambitious and modern exploration of an iconic moment in British history.

(3 / 5)

QUEEN MARGARET runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 6 October 2018.

About Donna

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1