Musical theatre / “Rockspeare Henry VI Part I” by William Shakespeare, directed by Lexi Sekuless. At Mill Theatre, Fyshwick until November 4. Reviewed by ALANNA MACLEAN
In 2020, with covid raging there was the wild Rockspeare: “Richard III”.
Now director Lexi Sekuless has followed up with the equally steampunk “Rockspeare Henry VI Part I” at the compact Mill Theatre space.
Actually Shakespeare’s “Henry VI Part I” doesn’t chronologically follow “Richard III”, but starts the story of the Wars of the Roses that “Richard III” finishes. This play glosses over the fact that Henry VI came to the throne at nine months old after his hero father Henry V died unexpectedly of illness rather than in battle.
But it gives us the start of the York versus Lancaster feud, an English view of Joan of Arc and the first glimpse of Margaret of Anjou who will be such a powerful presence as the saga progresses.
Sekuless goes for a female and non-binary cast of some strength and numbers and the pace never slackens. York and Lancaster pluck their roses from where they grow out of the walls. Occasionally, there’s a break into brief modern commentary. And nobody waits around for a scene change. The flow, the teamwork and the energy is constant.
Moments such as the general court impatience with the naive young Henry (Chips Jin), the tensions in the rose-plucking scene and the fate of Joan of Arc (Alana Denham-Preston) are handled with force. The relationship and fates of the senior and junior Talbots (Stefanie Lekkas and Chips Jin) on the battlefield are warmly done. The Dauphin (Queen) of France (Rachel Howard) has a fine Gallic arrogance.
Kate Blackhurst as the seasoned Gloucester, exasperated with the young king, has the impatience of experience. York (Heidi Silberman) has clear ambitions and ruthlessness. Old Mortimer (Sarah Carroll) dies in her cell with dignity.
And the foreshadowing of the capacity of Margaret of Anjou to be more than a compliant royal bride is clear, if not to Sarah Nathan-Trusdale’s plotting Suffolk.
The lighting by Stefan Wronski has some rock-concert drama but homes in with subtlety when it is needed. Andre Pinzon’s sound is appropriately disturbing.
Costume designer Tania Jobson keeps the punk rock visual energy consistent as do movement directors Annette Sharpe and Timmy Sekuless. The multi-level set by Kathleen Kershaw accommodates roses, castles, battlefields and prisons and it is a good thing to let the eye be drawn to the odd piece of written commentary on the walls.
It’s not one of the better known Shakespeares in the sense that you are unlikely to have done it at school. You might have seen a version of “The Wars of the Roses” but it’s no bad thing to look it all up before you arrive. It will certainly enhance appreciation of what good work “Rockspeare” is doing here.
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