THE LION ROARS AND DOES NOT SLEEP
|Reviewer Catherine Siggins|
Review for The Lion In Winter
The Colony Theatre,
Saturday 3rd May 2014
It’s 1183AD. The place, Chinon, France. We get to spend Christmas eve with King Henry II, and his wife of 30 plus years, the magnificent Eleanor of Aquitaine, and witness them verbally, and almost literally, go to war over which of their three sons will become heir to the throne. The presence of Henry’s mistress doesn’t help matters. This action packed Plantagenet Christmas makes the average aggravating, squabble filled, family gathering tame in comparison, thanks to the bristling anachronistic writing of James Goldman. Hardly a Cliff Richard Christmas....
Though dealing with issues of power, strategic marriages, deceit, plots, politics, mortality and legacy, really, it is on the matrimonial battlefield that this man and woman fuel their fighting, and they’ve used their children as weapons, when not neglecting them, to focus on hurting each other. Take away the crowns, and you are left with a woman who was desperately in love with a womanizing man, who broke his vows and her heart. In today’s world, fighting couples use lawyers to take property, income, access to children, but in this family, Eleanor was so hurt she went to war with Henry, tried to kill him, and used his sons against him. For this he imprisoned her, and only lets her out for holidays. Yet somehow, they continue to love each other, and that is what really stops them succeeding in killing the other. I think Dorothy Parker said it well, “They sicken of calm who know the storm”.
Don’t be fooled, The Lion in Winter is a comedy. Director Stephanie Vlahos has succeeded in creating a production with many laugh-out-loud moments, although, my European sensibilities were expecting something a bit darker. Vlahos has chosen to keep the mood light, shying away from exploring the deeper, more violent sentiments of the characters.
Mariette Hartley and Ian Buchanan, have created an interesting and likeable Eleanor and Henry, they are enjoyable to watch, though their exchanges somehow lack the viciousness and pain of embattled spouses. Rather, they seem to be engaged in verbal badminton, unusual for two used to waging real wars.
Overall, the experienced cast succeeds in doing justice to Goldman’s acerbic writing. Their English accents are good, as is their comic timing, and they create many a poignant moment.
They are helped by an excellent award-winning design team. David Potts has created a versatile stage design of Gothic arches, which is quite beautiful. At times warm and welcoming, at times forbidding, thanks to Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting design. Drew Dalzell has used medieval and contemporary songs in his sound design to evocative effect, and the costumes of Katie Bergh really denote the opulence of courtly life.
This production is more Blackadder then Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, but it makes for an entertaining evening.
-- “The Lion in Winter,” Colony Theatre, 555 North 3rd Street, Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 18. $20-$49. (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 or www.ColonyTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.