Described as possessing “deliciously witty and historically accurate script”, the play fictionalises the meeting between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France at a tournament designed to promote peace between the two nations. Walking down to the Royal Armouries, I was excited – after all, it is unusual to see a historical play performed in such a relevant location.
Despite a creative boast that The Royal Armouries collection has been inspirational and that their team have aided the actors in a realistic depiction of medieval fighting, the audience are treated to a mere cursory usage of authentic armour. To my great disappointment, the performance can best be described as historical comedy that, at times, slips into a history lesson. Little was left implicit. The history was unsubtly emphasised as each character monologues incessantly on the complex relationship between France and England, at times voicing conflicting views.
Luckily, the two actors, who alternated the parts of King Henry VIII and Francis I and their squires were wonderful and rescued the play from the otherwise contrived nature of the script.
Writer Tony Lidington employs a traditional Shakespearean comedic style; the audience encounters speech in verse, soliloquies and obvious stereotypes intended to provide ‘comic’ effect. Francis I becomes a randy French King, sweeping into the audience in order to seduce the English ‘courtesans’. At other times the comedy ranged on the farcical and desperately clichéd.
Despite the ability of the actors and some beautiful costumes, the play overall lacked fluidity – much like the awkward stage fighting of the actors.