Tell Tale

Uncle Richard

The Loft, Leamington

****

WAS Richard III really the dastardly villain Shakespeare painted him? Was his death a merciful event that spared England the ravages of a tyrant? And were the two princes in the tower, Edward V and Richard, really polished off at his behest? Or (as Josephine Tey’s book The Daughter of Time argued), are there different views, and was the crookback monarch neither crooked nor a crook?

One person who wants to know the ansRichard IIIwer, and will not rest till he uncovers at least some of the truth, is a very hyperactive, 11-year-old Prince Henry, subsequently Henry VIII: how often do we forget that he was Richard’s great-nephew? In Tell Tale Theatre’s vivid, inquisitive, busy and unfailingly funny production, we follow the antics of the young Harry – only recently promoted to future king by the death of his brother Arthur – as he quizzes his mother, tutor, grandmother in his determination to prise out some fresh information about his notorious – or is it maligned – relation: one of whom he has become rather fond.

Richard III,  the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty

The whole story is played out by just three actors – and what irresistible fun they bring to this curious and determined treasure hunt. Tell Tale’s trio are a gifted, endlessly entertaining ensemble who make of the history-ridden script, devised by ‘E. S. Cooper’, a magnificently enjoyable show, in which the story of the previous hundred years is played out with a glorious comic touch which captivates and enlightens at the same time.

There is grieving at the outset, as Stuart Horobin, who doubles as Henry VII and his excitable son, faces up to the loss of his heir, and finds no pleasure in the antics of his court jester – the first of several dotty or at least unpredictable roles played by Taresh Solanki, who likewise doubles various roles as bishop, royal teacher, etc. with that of Director. Indeed so animated is this show – and the costumes are pure delight – that one has to say it is cleverly directed and handsomely designed: such is the energy, that with the visuals a modest outlay goes a long way.

 Queen Elizabeth (daughter of Edward IV and sister to the lost princes) is not averse to a bit of teasing: ‘Lazy Lancastrians’, she dubs her husband’s side of the royal line. One of the treats of this production – at every point – is the quick repartee, not least by the young prince who is so keyed up he has an answer or a query for everything – except, perhaps, the central question.

Horobin’s Prince Harry is pure delight: an absolute hoot - constantly on the move, firing questions from the hip, and pulling a hundredEmma Sian Cooper and Solanki different faces, endlessly varied and all appropriate. So, if his tutor (Solanki) can concede ‘History is not really my sort of speciality’, it certainly is the prince’s: young Harry is avid to have answers, and insuppressible in his bouncy insistence on having them. On this agitated and classy showing, one is tempted to describe Horobin as a comic genius.

Emma Sian Cooper and Taresh Solanki

It’s a witty, knowledgeable, well-crafted script. There is a long scene in which Solanki rushes around the audience, who have been allotted various royal name-tags, treating us to a history lesson which embraces every monarch and royal sidekick from the time of Edward III and the Black Prince up to the current day. Certainly, this bit of history is the true basis of the events of 1483-5. By the time we have waded through Duke of Clarence (‘Uncle George – disliked by everyone’), Warwick, York, Rutland, Buckingham and so on this history lesson becomes, it must be admitted, a bit wearisome, too repetitive and overdone: a slice of intelligent cutting and trimming might surely have helped. (A couple of minor errors crept in to the quick-fire biographies - but nothing serious.)Emma Sian Cooper (presumably also the finely informed and carefully researching author) brought dignity and a sharp wit to her various roles: as the Queen Mother (Elizabeth Woodville), now in old age a nun, she added a solemnity and dignity that impressed; as the Queen, she excelled, not least because all three of these actors were superb clear speakers. But her piece Solankide resistance was as young Thomas More, the page of the Bishop of Ely and future Archbishop: changing sex, she delivered a delightful and clever performance, astute and deftly moved. So persuasive was she (he), she reminded one of Portia in The Merchant of Venice. More, incidentally, did as much as anyone to blacken Richard III’s name.

But Richard, whom the story focused on in the second half, seemed hard to extricate from blame; not least as ‘every good story needs a villain’.

Taresh SolankiTaresh Solanki explains the royal bloodlines with the aid of balls of wool`

On the face of it, he has no chance. Eager and persistent, young Harry probes and struggles by every possible means to exonerate his great uncle and hero: so far and wide do his theories reach that one of the choicest is that the princes ‘killed each other’. But what is the truth? As Harry’s tutor reminds us, ‘Every king has his own chronicler who paints him as he wishes to.’

Every little twitch and grimace, edgy shuffle and sideways glance, scatty sword-wielding and batty jumping to conclusions by young Henry was sheer delight. He was dressed like a mere stripling and acted genuinely like an 11-year-old, or thereabouts. Horobin is a marvellously inventive actor, and his every move brought something new or wittily devised. But perhaps the really riveting moment came at the end when Cooper’s Queen, the daughter, sister, wife, mother, niece of a king, has a superb soliloquy which provided one of the most arresting scenes of the whole play.

Uncle Richard was devised as part of the celebrations of the reinternment of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral. It is a splendid celebration, well worthy of such an august occasion. It does not point the finger, but opens the door to numerous possibilities. After all, he was only 32 when he died. Who knows if, married to his niece, he might have turned out as able a king as his Lancastrian rival?

Roderic Dunnett

10-16

Touring to:

Quaker Meeting House, Warwick Friday 28 October 7.30 p.m.

Guildhall, Leicester Sunday 6 November 5.00 p.m.

St Peter's Parish Hall, Nuneaton  25 February, 2017 

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