REVIEW: The Blood of Kings, Theatre iNQ

Brendan OÇonnor in Theatre iNQ's 'The Blood of Kings' IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

To mark it’s 10th Anniversary this year, Townsville’s Theatre iNQ is presenting a season of epic proportions – staging Company Director Terri Brabon’s own three-part adaptation of Shakespeare’s eight Wars of the Roses plays. The first of these is The Blood of Kings which amalgamates Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV (Parts One and Two) and the beginning of Henry V; and follows the family’s backstabbing and betrayal as each of the three Kings ascends to the English Throne.

This first instalment gets the season off to a thrilling start and The Blood of Kings immediately commands the audience’s attention as it plunges the performance space at C2 into total, sudden darkness. A procession of King Edward III’s sons, set to a brilliant voice-over, paints the scene to tremendous effect.

James Raggatt as Richard II in The Blood of Kings IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

First to take the throne is Richard II, played by Townsville export and NIDA graduate James Raggatt. Richard II was crowned at just 10-years-old and James fittingly imbues his performance with a boyish charisma and sense of complacency that suggest the weight of his duties is lost on Richard II until he is stripped of them. James moves Richard through distraction, desperation and a morbid acceptance of his loss with sublime subtlety, to create a well-rounded, wholly enjoyable performance.

When Henry IV (Brendan O’Connor) usurps the throne he must spend his reign quashing uprisings from the Welsh and the Scots, while disappointed by the drunken disinterest of his son and heir, Prince Hal (Joseph Raggatt). This is a departure from the more comedic and physical roles Brendan has taken in Theatre iNQ’s recent Shakespeare offerings (Iago in Othello, Dromio in A Comedy of Errors, and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and it serves to remind us that this incredible actor is so much more than flashy tricks. Brendan can – and does – arrest an entire room with the power of his voice alone.

John Goodson as Falstaff and Joseph Raggatt as Prince Hal in Theatre iNQ’s The Blood of Kings. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

While Henry IV is occupied by battles and politics, Prince Hal spends his time endearing himself to the common folk, drinking and petty thieving. Joseph Raggatt (also a Townsville-grown NIDA graduate) delivers a hypnotic performance and his skill as an actor appears to lie in understanding the power of the smallest gesture. Joseph took Hal from carefree and jovial to reflective and heavily burdened in beautifully deflating moment simply by removing a makeshift ‘crown’ from his head. This one small movement heralded a complete about-face for Hal and paved the way for the rising King to turn quickly and cruelly on his companions.

This is quite a heavy-on-the-history play and some much-needed levity is injected into Act Two by Falstaff (John Goodson), Mistress Quickly (Arminelle Fleming) and Doll Tearsheet (Anna Vella-Sams) as they get up to their antics in the Boar’s Head Tavern. John and Arminelle make a perfect pair of friendly foe; and Anna adds to the trio tremendously.

Clever theatrical devices are used to create effect. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

These main actors were backed by wonderful performances from Theatre iNQ’s consistently strong Company Actors inc;luding mainstays like Ron Pulman, Michael Sams, Michael Doris and John Robertson; and current members of Theatre iNQ’s training program, The Bridge Project. It was also wonderful to see a strong cast of Guest Actors pulled from Townsville’s broader theatre community, and all of these actors plugged seamlessly into the ensemble. Special mention should be given to notably strong performances by Nicholas Christie, Shannon Jensen, Liam Baker-Goodson, Riley Johnston and Hollie Sams, who each carried meaty roles.

As is often the case with Theatre iNQ productions, Director Terri Brabon and her team have struck the perfect balance between complexity and simplicity. The script itself requires the audience to listen attentively in order to piece together the convoluted family tree and understand the various levels of treachery and betrayal at play. Similarly, Terri’s choice to set this performance on a thrust stage (meaning the audience is seated on three sides) required some close attention to detail to ensure no seating block felt left out. This can often complicate the staging process for Directors and Actors, but Theatre iNQ has pulled it off with some imaginative and entertaining blocking that keeps the action dynamic, while preventing the audience from feeling like they’re missing out or only seeing one character’s perspective. Last on the complex side of the scale is the incredible costuming and jewellery by Kathy Brabon and Ann O’Connor (Really, Richard’s feathered cape is a thing of beauty!), which drives home the opulence of the English Royals at this particular point.

With so much to focus on, Terri and Brendan have pared back their set, lighting and sound design with a clear ‘less is more’ mentality. The set is simple timber-look flooring, a rostrum for the King and Queen’s thrones, an impressive crucifix suspended over the space and very simple series of furniture moved on and off as needed. Lighting is used strategically to elevate the mood, suggest the confines of a prison, and capture attention enormously quickly; and, in tandem with some incredible sound design created several goosebump-moments.

This is a loooong show. At three-hours running time, and with a substantial amount of dialogue to keep pace with, it is demanding on audiences. However, Theatre iNQ has once again brought a captivating piece of theatre to the stage. The combination of experienced and emerging theatre-makers involved in this production is a testament to this Company’s contribution to Townsville’s creative fabric over the past decade; and I couldn’t help but feel a tingle of excitement at the thought of what these performers might go on to achieve.

Congratulations and happy 10th birthday, Theatre iNQ.

The Wars of the Roses: The Blood of Kings runs at C2, Civic Theatre until 7 March 2020.

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