Breath of Kings

Graham Abbey has created a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV parts one and two and Henry V, compressing all four plays into two three hour productions. Actors and characters cross from one play to the other, providing both continuity and little shocks of recognition when an actor who died early ismseen again in a new role.


The first play stars Tom Rooney as Richard II and Graham Abbey as Henry Bolingbroke. The cast includes other senior stalwarts, including Geraint Wyn Davies, Stephen Russell, Randy Hughson and Wayne Best. It also provides great opportunities for a host of younger actors. Most actors play miltiple roles and many male roles are played by women. It provides an interesting opportunity to experience that extra level of suspension of disbelief that audiences had to employ in Shakepeare’s time, watchin men play women’s parts. Partiular note must be made of Araya Mengesha as Prince Hal, Kate Hennig in several roles, but most enjoyable as Mistress Quickly and Carly Street who also had a number of,parts but shone as the Earl of Douglas.

The compression of the two,plays into one has advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, it eliminates a lot of the less interesting dialogue and side bits that tend to slow the play down. On the negative side, it never gets a chance to buld. Everything moves quicklymfrom one action scene to the next, withnlittle time for reflection. Even John of Gaunt’s speech about England seems rushed and loses much of its poetry and pwer in the rush.

Overall, I enjoyed the play and looked forward to seeing the next part.


This time, the play is a combination of the second part of Henry IV and Henry V.

Tom Rooney now takes the role of the chorus, who moves the action along, filling in the blanks in the story as it progresses. He wears a kngly robe that reminded me of his robe as Richard, but less gaudy, almost ghostly. It was an interesting touch. He also plays the role of Justice Shallow and has a great time with it.

Graham Abbey makes the most of his death scene and scedes the throne to Araya Mengeshi, who is more than capable of handling it.

Geraint Wyn Davies, Kate Hennig and Michele Giroux are outstanding in the raucous bar scene before the war begins.

The battle scene at the end is very effective, but leaves a problem after the battle is over. The stage has been disrupted, but cannot be put back in place fast enough, so Henry and Katherine have to do their wooing clambering over and around large blocks.  Fortunately, they manage to bring it off without looking silly.

There are more things to enjoy than to quibble about in this production. If you like,the underlying plays, you will enjoy this adaptation.


About cathyriggall

Theatre junkie, who thinks live theatre is the ultimate form of living on the edge. You never know what will happen when an actor steps on the stage.
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One Response to Breath of Kings

  1. keithhpotter says:

    Yes, the compression has trade-offs. There is sometimes a loss of impact – for instance the St. Crispin Day speech, (perhaps because the Little Touch of Harry was diminished?) – and, if you are not familiar with the underlying plays, perhaps a loss of clarity.

    The acting was, of course, good but while I liked Rooney’s work later in the shows, I was a bit surprised at his take on Richard II. His Richard was quite funny, and this was enjoyable in itself, but I did not think that was how Richard was supposed to be. I guess I need to read the play, or look at other versions again (the BBC’s Hollow Crown is sitting by the TV, so I’ll have a chance to see Ben Winshaw’s take on it).

    Although the first play started with a bare play with mulch on it, like Branagh’s Macbeth in the church, and the second play also started on a bare stage, the decision in the latter case to treat it as a jigsaw puzzle to pull pieces out of was, I thought, clumsy and made worse when the pieces did not go back into their places – as Cathy commented on for the wooing scene.

    All in all, an interesting take on the plays, but not an outstanding one.

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