Theatre review: War of the Roses

War of the Roses, Sydney Theatre Company, January 2009
War of the Roses, Sydney Theatre Company, January 2009

This is somewhat overdue, but for my birthday in January, Dave and I went to see Sydney Theatre Company’s production for the Festival of Sydney.  This was the ambitious and epic War of the Roses, which saw 8 of Shakespeare’s history plays stripped back and condensed into 2 parts, with 4 discrete acts, and was presented at The Wharf Theatre.  While it was possible to see it over 2 days, we decided to do the marathon effort in one sitting.

This production was the final one for The Actors Company, which has been disbanded by STC’s new artistic directors, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton.  The cast made use of all 12 members of The Actors Company, with a few additions such as Blanchett herself.

The War of the Roses Cycle covers approximately 100 years of English mediaeval history, and is comprised of:

  • Richard II (Part 1, Act 1)
  • Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, Henry V (Part 1, Act 2)
  • Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 (Part 2, Act 1)
  • Richard III (Part 2, Act 2)

Stripped of the padding, the topical 16th century political and social commentary, and references that modern audiences would not be familiar with, the core of the cycle becomes apparent:  power, what it means to have it, what it means to take it by force, and what it means to abuse it.  An idealised golden age is overthrown leading to war and destruction, before culminating in an ashen wasteland.

There is no way I can do this experience justice in a single post, so I intend to do a review of each act separately over the next few days.  That will allow me to spend time on my interpretation of the sets as well as the performances.  For now, let me just say that it was a phenomenal experience, and I’m glad I ws able to see it.

War of the Roses:

Director –  Benedict Andrews
Set Designer –  Robert Cousins
Costume Designer – Alice Babidge
Lighting Designer  – Nick Schlieper
Composer and Sound Designer – Max Lyandvert
Musician – Stefan Gregory

With Narek Armaganian, Cate Blanchett, Brandon Burke, Peter Carroll, Marta Dusseldorp, Eden Falk, Holly Fraser, John Gaden, Louis Hunter, Michael Kilbane, Ewen Leslie, Steve Le Marquand, Hayley McElhinney, Amber McMahon, Robert Menzies, Luke Mullins, Pamela Rabe, Emily Russell, Billy Shaw-Voysey, Leo Shaw-Voysey

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