All entries for June 2008

June 25, 2008

A Man For All Seasons, York Theatre Royal

Now More Taste for the Tudor

4 stars

Theatre is one of the clearest ways to prove that history repeats itself. Watching Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons at the York Theatre Royal brought to mind Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and its pitting of morality against survival. Bolt’s play recalls the devout Catholic Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, and his silent protest against King Henry VIII’s wish to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Just like John Proctor in Miller’s play refusing to name names at the 1692 Salem witch trial (a code for 1950s America), More sticks doggedly to his morals in a world where morality and religion have otherwise collapsed.

Paul Shelley’s first-rate production at the York Theatre Royal just goes to show how productions here rival the very best of London theatre. A magnificent, metallic set captures both the elegance of the court and the severity of an execution platform. We watch in horror as More – once an admired subject of the king – falls so far out of sovereign favour that he is reduced to poverty, jail and, finally, the block.

David Leonard gives an exceptional performance as Sir Thomas, a playful dryness causing us to warm to him as a human being as well as revere him as a moral pillar. His human compassion and sincerity penetrate through the jocular, quick-witted surface. As his domestic entourage, Jessica Manley conveys the intelligent goodness of More’s daughter, Margaret, and Penelope Beumont, if a little too dragon-like at times, offers steely support as the Chancellor’s wife. The audience find a likeable ally in Paul Trussell’s servant to More and the archetypal “common man”. Stepping outside of the action at regular intervals, he mischievously dispels the mood of each scene with fervour. The production is excellently cast all round, the actors portraying the sycophancy of Henry VIII’s court and the fierce political back-stabbing that runs in its underbelly.

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