Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Lion in Winter at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth
It seems you can’t move at the moment without encountering some tale of England’s royal lineage. Does this say something about our sense of national identity?
The Priory Theatre steps into the fray with one of the greatest of all royal dramas, a classic of stage and screen, describing the vexed question of succession from that most mighty of English kings, Henry II. This is family dynamics writ large, and it takes a confident team to step up to the mark.
Fortunately for us they do. Apart from a few first night nerves, this was a testosterone-fuelled show.
Kevin Coughlan gives a sterling performance as the old king. He is capricious, devious, and an expert game player. He is matched by his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine: Anne Bowen gives her character the complexity it needs. Theirs is a love-hate relationship mired in the reality of politics.
The sons each loathe their father, yet they yearn for his love. Richard (Dan Gough) is brooding and dangerous; while his brother John (Henri West) is but a sneering adolescent. Geoffrey is the geeky brother who will never be king, played with simmering resentment by Benjamin Wellicome.
Poor Alais (Rose Kenny), originally betrothed to Richard but now openly Henry’s mistress, is at first a pawn in this brutal squabble but soon acquires a ruthless streak of her own. Philip of France (Nathan Lloyd) is vain and clever, as a French king ought to be.
The action in Lion in Winter is all in the magnificent dialogue, and is about more than mere kings and queens.
* The play runs until Saturday May 28. Call 0333 6663366 to book.