The rarely performed or heard of play by William Shakespeare sees the return of Trevor Nunn at the Rose Theatre, who valiantly tries to deliver a solid production of a problematic play.
William Shakespeare’s interpretation of the reign of King John has everything thrown at it: politics, power and religion to name a few – hence why it is difficult to have a clear understanding of the plot.
But despite the heaviness of the language that requires your full attention at all times, Trevor Nunn has created a production that keeps things as simple as possible to great effect.
King John has just been crowned, but there is a dispute as to who is the rightful heir to the throne of England, as the French King Philip believes the rightful heir is King John’s nephew Arthur. What follows is a battle for control of England that becomes increasingly tense as relations between France and England worsen.
One of the main strengths of the production is the charismatic performances of the cast, who all put in performances that show their sheer dedication in holding the audience’s attention from beginning to end.
Jamie Ballard as King John, really reveals the weakness of the king and how unsuited he is to ruling over England – acting almost childlike to show his vulnerability and quick changes in his mind. Yet, despite this the audience can still feel sympathy for him – particularly as he is lying dying after being poisoned and recognising how he has failed his country and people.
There are also impressive performances from Lisa Dillon as Constance, whose quick change of moods and constant attempts to outwit the men – such as in the scene where she finds out of the marriage between Louis and Blanche, her fury is definitely something to be reckoned with. Howard Charles as Philip Faulconbridge delivers a confident and perceptive performance – always just on the outside of the main action, but able to sneak his way into the heart of the proceedings as required.
The costumes and set designed by Mark Friend, all help to evoke the feeling of the medieval period perfectly and ties in nicely with the simplistic style of production that Trevor Nunn has created. Although, the two screens at the top of the multi-storey set are a little bit distracting and don’t seem to serve much purpose, particularly when it comes to the filming of scenes such as the king’s coronation.
But it is a troublesome play, with words speaking louder than action most of the time, so that by the end it is difficult to concentrate on what is happening and the audience does begin to get a bit fidgety.
That being said, it is to Trevor Nunn’s credit that despite the length of the play and the language slowing proceedings down, there is still a sense of energy and underlying tension that keeps the audience engrossed from beginning to end.
Is it one to see? While it not be one of Shakespeare’s best works, it is still fascinating to watch if you want to see one of his lesser known plays in the 400th anniversary year of his death. A fantastic cast and set appropriately at the Rose Theatre, makes it worth taking a chance on.