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Reviews of Henry VI appeared in the Oxford Times and in Daily Information. A gallery of images from the show is available to view.


Gender swop Henry VI well executed

“A punishing, blood drenched 12 hours.” That’s how the Daily Telegraph described the RSC production of Shakespeare’s trilogy of Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3. Or you can cut the epic down to two parts, call it Rose Rage and use an all-male cast, as Propeller did in their acclaimed version.

Now Oxford Theatre Guild has rung the changes: their new production features a complete reversal of genders, and the overall length is cut down to three hours.

Director Alistair Nunn has also wielded the axe on Shakespeare’s script, cutting the number of characters by 90% to just 30, played by a strong ensemble team of 17 actors. To make things abundantly clear, everyone wears colour-coded T-shirts carrying their current character’s name – a clever device, although I shamefacedly admit that the snigger-worthy effect of seeing, for example, HENRY emblazoned across a very evidently female chest took a while to wear off.

Nunn concentrates on the rivalry and anger between Henry and York’s families. From the start Lindsey-Anne Bridges makes it plain that Henry VI is far too nice and soft-voiced to be a match for Helen Taylor’s bloodthirsty, sneering Duke of York. Circling around like vultures are characters like forceful Gloucester (Alison Sweatman) and Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III. Chloe Orrock convincingly portrays him as a thoroughly nasty, rather puerile piece of work.

The reversal of genders has its most dramatic, almost Freudian, effect in the relationship between Henry and Margaret (Craig Finlay). Their hands are quickly and constantly all over each other, but its definitely Margaret who rules the roost.

Nunn keeps the action going at a cracking pace, and if you can’t stand the sight of blood, worry not: there isn’t any, as all executions are dispatched in a clinically clean manner.



William Shakespeare's trio of plays about a weak king and those who want his throne. New adaptation combines these plays in one, with a gender-reversed cast.

This Henry VI is an exciting twist to the Oxford Shakespeare scene. Director Alistair Nunn has skilfully condensed all three parts of Henry VI into one play, but 'reduced Shakespeare' this is not. In a compelling twist, the cast is gender reversed: all of the male characters are played by female actors, and vice versa. This allows you to see the characters for who and what they really are. Leave your preconceptions and assumptions about gender at the front door.

The fight scenes and deaths are remarkable only in number, but the Director and Lighting Designer have employed several motifs to ensure that you notice the body count. There are flashes of inspired directing, but I must admit to finding the lurching changes in music to be a little distracting. However, the lighting and set suit the studio venue very well, and the costume design will ensure that you never forget who anyone is. Definitely worth a look.


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