King John. Directed by Gregory Doran at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 21 March-11 October, 2001.
Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

Hopkins, Lisa. "Review of King John." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.3 (September, 2001): 13.1-3 <URL:

Design by Stephen Brimson Lewis, lighting by Tim Mitchell, music by Colin Buckeridge, movement by Jack Murphy, and sound by Martin Slavin. With Guy Henry as King John, Alison Fiske as Queen Eleanor, Victoria Duarri as Blanche of Spain, Andrew Maud as the Earl of Pembroke, Colin McCormack as the Earl of Salisbury, Andrew James Storey as Lord Bigot and the English herald, Jo Stone-Fewings as the Bastard, Joseph England as Robert Falconbridge and the English messenger, Angela Vale as Lady Falconbridge, Tom Harper as James Gurney and Prince Henry, Benjamin Darlington and Joshua McGuire as Arthur, Kelly Hunter as Constance, Geoffrey Freshwater as King Philip, John Hopkins as the Dauphin, Trevor Martin as the Duke of Austria and Peter of Pomfret, Drew Mulligan as Chatillon, David Mara as Melun and the French herald, Trevor Cooper as Hubert, David Collings as Cardinal Pandulph, and Elizabeth Hurran as Soldier.

  1. Gregory Doran's production of King John has not quite the rarity value that it might once have had, when productions of this play really were few and far between, but it is nevertheless rendered sufficiently unsual by the presence in the central role of Guy Henry, an actor so tall that he seems scarcely to belong to the same species as the rest of the cast. Henry's astonishing height is accentuated by his costuming, for much of the production, in a stark, floor-length gown of grey, which in turn serves to stress rather than mask the jerkiness of his movements as he launches himself headlong from one ill-fated scheme to the next.

  2. Actually the futility of most human plans and action was what came most strongly to the fore in this production, whose roots lay clearly as much in Blackadder as in the more traditionally reverential approaches of Shakespearean criticism. As soon as anybody planned anything, it was frustrated by a sudden, unexpected turn of events. Particularly striking were the repeated arrivals on the scene of the Papal Legate, here brilliantly played by David Collings, whose louche delivery of the line, addressed to the Dauphin, "How green you are--and FRESH," got the loudest laugh of the evening. Almost equally notable was the death of Arthur, here staged with particular ingenuity: apparently taking a hint from the production of The Massacre at Paris at The Other Place some years ago, Doran had a dummy fall from a breaking section of the upper gallery, while the real boy was discreetly led to safety. Even more innovative was a device I have never seen before: at the height of the uncertainty and invasion scenes, Jo Stone-Fewings' robust Bastard found himself confronting an unknown interlocutor in complete darkness, forcing the entire audience of the Swan to inhabit, however momentarily, the same mist and bewilderment as the characters.

  3. It was a difficult, in a production that so consistently undermined the agency of its principals and offered so ironic a perspective on its actions, to achieve serious moments: King John's death passed virtually unnoticed; Arthur's impressed more by its stagecraft than its poignance, and the dummy was obviously a dummy; the English army were football hooligans, and even played football with the Duke of Austria's head. Nevertheless, real dignity was achieved both by Victoria Duarri's Blanche and, even more so, by Kelly Hunter's superb Constance, whose rich, mobile voice made Constance's laments truly moving and arresting. Though there was, for my tastes, a bit too much smoke and banner-waving, this was nevertheless a production that consistently managed to interest and engage a full house in one of the least-known and least-performed of Shakespeare's plays.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)