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Review of The Lion In Winter performed by The Masque Theatre at the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

Leading up to Christmas there is perhaps no better thing to do than see a play about a family getting together at Christmas and ending up arguing, fighting, threatening each other with knives, offering to marry off their lover to their son, imprisoning their three sons in a dungeon and preparing for a war with a French guy. Yes, that sounds like every bodies average Christmas doesn't it!

The family in question in James Goldman's 1966 play The Lion In Winter is Henry II's, featuring his three sons and his sort of wife Queen Eleanor. Throw into the mix Henry's lover Princess Alais and King Philip of France and you have events and family maneuverings that even Eastenders would't go near.

Thankfully for this time of year, Goldman's play is a high comedy take on this dysfunctional family, often extremely and indeed surprisingly funny. There is also with the political wranglings and language used, much in common with that fantastic series Yes Minister including a magic wordplay moment that could have fell straight out of Humphrey's lips.

We have once again from a Masque production an overwhelmingly impressive cast, headed in this case by a magnificent turn from Tristan Smith as Henry II (as he was in Becket). Yes he is too young for the role in this play, but with his commanding voice and aggravatingly strained movement, he makes the role his own. Especially perhaps with his delivering of the comedy put downs (often against Eleanor) with a twinkle in his eye. He is as lead the very best of the cast.

However the support is exceptional, not least Patricia Coleman's Eleanor. Age obsessed perhaps and constantly frightened of her own reflection, you are also never sure if she loves her family or just wants them dead. She is indeed perfect in the role and her sparring with Smith is exceptional.

The three sons, Richard (Jof Davies), Geoffrey (Peter Collins) and John (Harry Feery) are also excellent, with Goldman's script constantly deceiving us to their motives, it is left to them to portray their maneuverings in performance. It is great joy to me to finally see Jof Davies in a big role after being a shinning light in the background in other productions this year. He does not let us down and is particularly impressive in that scene in the second half with Henry in the presence of Philip. It is a wonderfully underplayed moment and all the more powerful for that. Collins and Feery are also great value, with the latter an impressively convincing slightly intellectually challenged brat.

I did have a slight problem with the character of Princess Alais, not so much because of Lasma Paberza tender performance, but more that the character seemed not to mean much to the play, which is a shame as I felt all others were very well used. The least present King Philip was well performed in a gentle withering way by Josh Redding, and like Davies came into his own in the second act revelatory scene.

Director Rob Kendall has once again used the occasionally awkward space of the round well, with all areas of the audience getting a fair spread of the view and this was actually the best play I have seen in the round for clarity of voice. I also liked the touch of the rather bored and poor postured Roger Toone as our scene shifter.

So another wonderful evening with the Masque Theatre and with spirited performances of Christmas songs from the cast at the start and end of the play, it is indeed the perfect way to get into the spirit of Christmas. If only for good preparation of the plotting of the death of one of the family over the Christmas pudding.


Performance reviewed: 1st December, 2015 at the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton.

The Lion In Winter is 
performed by the Masque Theatre until Saturday 7th, 2015 at the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton.

Details of the Masque Theatre can be found at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/


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