The rain of King Henry
"I SPY a black, suspicious threatening cloud," declares King Edward IV before the climax of Shakespeare's historical trilogy.
He had in mind the army of Margaret, formidable wife of the deposed Henry VI, advancing toward Tewkesbury.
But in this rain-swept production by London's Shakespeare's Globe on the actual site of the battle of 1471, his words could be taken literally.
It was a formidable achievement to present all three plays separately in the comfort of Malvern Theatres during the week.
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To do all three in one day, in the open, in awful weather, was heroic.
And what compensation was to be had for discomfort, to see Margaret (Mary Doherty) overlook the battle scene from a tower, as she did from Windmill Hill or the Abbey on the day, or Henry (Graham Butler) look toward the Bloody Meadow, where many of his Lancastrian troops were to die.
At times the weather set up its own dramatic commentary, clashing a backstage cymbal as Joan of Arc (Beatriz Romilly) swore vengeance, and overturning a backstage tent as Henry cried out in anger. Simon Harrison's Dauphin not so much fell as slid at Joan's feet and a magnificent cast carried on regardless, Nigel Hastings alone, as Exeter, allowing himself a briefly raised eyebrow at "There comes the rain, there comes confusion."
There were excellent performances from Garry Cooper as Humphrey, Brendan O'Hea as York and as a delightfully camp French king, and Cheltenham's Mike Grady as Winchester.
Butler plays Henry as a man bereft of self-confidence, flipping between reticence and rage, floating in a voluminous blue gown like a balloon, likely to burst at any moment.
Doubling as Richard, Harrison pants like a vicious animal driven mad by deformity. So what dark pleasure to see the dead Henry fall on to his body, trapping him like an upturned beetle.
With the text cut by half, parts 1 and 3 can seem a parade of dead and dying, but the complicated plot – two Somersets, two Exeters, others changing sides – is made more comprehensible by characters smearing their faces with fearsome red or white greasepaint to denote their allegiances.
Curiously, the production took place exactly on the anniversary of one of England's most significant and bloody battles – not at Tewkesbury, but nearby Evesham 200 years earlier when … But let's not go into that – the story's complicated enough already.