"90 minutes of compelling entertainment"
The Ballad of Lady Bessy, Loft Studio, Leamington, until November 18.
Ask any student of history what brings the subject to life and they will doubtless reflect on the richness of its tapestry and the complexity of its people.
Key facts may be unassailable but many theories abound and within this context lies the fascinating source of drama and debate. Was Richard of Gloucester really such a crook-backed swine? Did he engineer the murders of the little princes? What roles did the women of the time actually play?
This provocative new play, written and directed by David Fletcher, takes a bold stance on such issues and in providing much food for thought ensures 90 minutes of compelling entertainment. Its focus is on Elizabeth of York, not in the guise of passive observer during the stormy years leading to her marriage to Henry VII but as a strongly manipulative catalyst for marking out the course of events.
It allows for a stunning, tour-de-force performance by Elizabeth Morris, revealing a woman of strength and integrity who is nonetheless beset at times by an underlying fragility. How she maintains her momentum in the face of the wavering support and erratic opposition from her mother (an equally terrific Susie May Lynch) is beautifully realised.
The play’s power emanates from its easy, flowing dialogue which cleverly skirts the modern without betraying the period, and from its wealth of characterisation in other roles, notably Sue Moore's steely Margaret Beaufort, a formidable and threatening presence, and Robert Lowe’s brief but effective early appearance as the dying Edward IV.
Its only drawbacks are some awkward passage-of-time lines (“Five years later” and suchlike), which need to be more subtly integrated in the dialogue, and a final speech unnecessarily rounding up subsequent events, which rather detracts from the immediacy of the piece.
But these are minor blips in a production which is mightily impressive in its overall commitment and would stand alongside the best of small-scale professional theatre.