The Wax King (1992): The Steam Factory (now Steam Industry), Man in the Moon, London

PrThe Wax King (

Location: Man in the Moon, London
Live Performance

This production ran from 29 September - 24 October 1992, according to Theatre Record.

"Phil Willmott turns to Henry VI, condensing, streamlining and superimposing until the three parts make a rattling good adventure lasting under two-and-a-half hours. The production unashamedly goes for excitement, taking as its model perhaps film or a television serial. Fluid groupings and quick lighting changes add cinematic smoothness to the narrative flow, and background music - usually a dodgy, not to say disastrous, distraction - admirably underlines the action like a soundtrack: ominous, intense, dramatic. There are losses, not merely individual characters and episodes (Joan of Arc, Jack Cade), but in the feeling of the fabric of a many-layered society suffering canker at its heart....But Willmott's production is marvellously strong on atmosphere, specifically late medieval and early Gothic. The apparent stone columns and pointed arches of Katherine Richards's design blend perfectly with the brick walls of this pub theatre, brooded over by a smoothly worn-away crucifix. Lonnie James brings a natural Bruegelian presence to an old nurse at young Rutland's murder. The victim is here a baby, depicted by a doll; his pleadings are uttered by a nurse in the third person. Ideally, a harrowing scene (the first night needed more speed), it was certainly more gripping than the RSC's last version, where a strapping Rutland in a nightie cowered in apparent terror over his diminutive killer. A slow-motion Tewkesbury swathes a forest of writhing figures in curling mist, and in the final freeze-frame coronation, the foreboding babble suddenly falls silent for hump-backed Gloucester to murmer about the winter of discontent. But that is another story...Elsewhere, the fantasy is more daring. In their illicit passion, Suffolk and Margaret break into a Fred and Ginger routine to the strains of You're getting to be a habit with me as the nobles prance in, roses clamped between their teeth; and Henry VI dances with a bleeding, loin-clothed Christ. For this sort of Ken Russell - half vulgar, half brilliant - the cast needs more conviction, more teeth 'n' smiles, more audacity. Strong performances come from Johanna Benyon's widow Grey, Martina Laird's battle-axe Margaret and Iain Fletcher's ambitious Suffolk.  ~ Martin Hoyle, "Shakespeare for thrills", The Times, 2 October 1992

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