The Lion in Winter

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich


> Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Personality is poison politics, and friends and family are often worse than foes.

When conflicts break out between a leader who is growing weaker day by day and the lesser folk around him, knives are sharpened and every back is tempting.

So as Henry II moves unwillingly towards the tomb, dividing the heritage becomes his obsession.

The Lion in Winter is a title that sums up the spirit of this king. When everything else is failing, he still can snarl. Peter Sweet skilfully creates a memorable image. Powerful but only with the strength of a man calling up his last reserves.

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He is angry because he knows control is slipping, and he can manage savage humour, but not effective planning any more.

Henry does not grow old alone, and the dramatist, James Goldman, creates fine situations with three princes who are so many thorns in their father's aging flesh.

Trevor Markworth's Richard is a gigantic bully, a sullen contradiction of a myth of a charismatic crusader.

His nature is brought out by his lisping immaturity of half-sized John, played by John Galea.

Rob Gibbs, as Geoffrey, shows just how hard it is to be as devious as the king. Mel Sessions, as the infuriated Queen, shows her claws as the deadly female in this royal jungle.

In period costume, but modern speech, even calling the queen “Mummy”, this production is directed by Clare Howard.

It captures all the energy of enraged clashes.

The pauses between the scenes, though, rather spoil the flow of gripping action.

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