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Queen Margaret at Royal Exchange Theatre - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
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‘Now I know how Joan of Arc felt ’
As Tom Stoppard found with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), there is great potential in modern dramatists plucking Shakespeare's characters from their original plays and giving them an afterlife.

Jeanie O'Hare has laid claim to Margaret of Anjou (1430 – 1482) - a real historical figure and 'Shakespeare's Lost Warrior Queen'. She appears in his Henry VI series and in Richard III.

The actors wear modern dress. This is appropriate for a new drama, which is 'taken from William Shakespeare' but is not a simple cut and paste job.

On the other hand, I was not quite sure what specific purpose the modern dress served. If the characters wear sharp suits and lanyards around their necks, why do they still speak in blank verse and Shakespearean syntax ("Now you grow too hot", "My Lord Protector will come this way by and by," etc.)

They have mobile phones but do not refer to specific conversations and play video games but use no twenty-first century weapons of war.

Theatre, Manchester, Royal Exchange, William Shakespeare, Margaret of Anjou, Jade Anouka
Jade Anouka (Queen Margaret), Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward) & Max Runham (Henry VI) Photo by Johan Persson

Then again, – as someone once said – the play's the thing and the costumes do not destroy Shakespeare and Jeanie O'Hare's poetry.

Jade Anouka as the Queen, regally carries off the gruelling journey from strategic wife to wounded warrior.

Her husband Henry VI (Max Runham) becomes less assured, and the crown sits more and more uneasily on his head, as his troubled island grows more troubled. Max Runham does justice to the role of a medieval monarch who is less suited to the burdens of ruling a fractured nation than his French-born wife. He has too much empathy and longing for peace to survive this ruthless game of thrones.

Lorraine Bruce is a no-nonsense Duke of York. She calls a spade a spade and would probably whack you with one if you got between her and the throne.

Helena Lymbery as Hume has many of the best lines and speaks to us directly. She wears both a red and white rose inside her jacket. "I do not know whose army I lead," she confides to us at one point. She has the weariness of someone who has read too many articles on Brexit.

Lucy Mangan, as Joan of Arc, is a gamine and mercurial presence. She is doomed to live in 'restless eternity' if only as the inner voice of Margaret's conscience, or at least a reminder of her Gallic childhood.

Director Elizabeth Freestone ensures a fast-paced production with multiple exits and entrances during its two hours and fifteen minutes duration. Adrienne Quartly's pulsating sound design and music feeds into this energy.

Theatre, Manchester, Royal Exchange, William Shakespeare, Margaret of Anjou, Jade Anouka
Samuel Edward-Cook (Clifford), Jade Anouka (Queen Margaret), Max Runham (Henry VI), Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward), Kwami Odoom (Somerset). Photo by Johan Persson.

That said, I found it hard to care too much about the characters' fates. Margaret of Anjou is a character who certainly deserves her own play but I would have valued seeing her inner life developed more.

She is not a tragic heroine of Lady Macbeth proportions and I felt that Jeanie O'Hare's skills as a writer might have been better employed using Shakespeare as a launching pad to create a fully-formed new play about Margaret of Anjou.

There was a little too much of the sound and fury of medieval war and not enough of Margaret's inner battles.

Theatre, Manchester, Royal Exchange, William Shakespeare, Margaret of Anjou, Jade Anouka
Jade Anouka (Queen Margaret). Photo by Johan Persson.

But if you are looking for a state-of-the-nation play about combustible alliances and dubious vows of loyalty, Queen Margaret has it all from opening squabbles about England's relationship to its nearest neighbours to exiles and valedictory speeches.

What Shakespeare would have made of this bold new production and, for that matter, Brexit, we will sadly never know.

There will be a post-show discussion on 27th September, a British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreted performance on 3 October and a captioned performance on 5th October.

Theatre, Manchester, Royal Exchange, William Shakespeare, Margaret of Anjou, Jade Anouka
The marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou is depicted in this miniature from an illustrated manuscript of Vigilles de Charles VII by Martial d'Auvergne, Public Domain,

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Why? Shakespeare’s Queen is Reborn
When: Until 6th October
Phone: 0161 833 9833
Where: Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square Manchester M2 7DH
Cost: Standard Tickets from £18.50
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