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Watermill - Rose Rage

3rd February to 17th March 2001.

Rose Rage, Edward Hall and Roger Warren’s exciting adaptation of the three Henry VI plays into two performances, promises to be one of the most exciting dramatic events of the year.

Rose Rage Parts One and Two play in repertoire, with the opportunity to see both plays in one day on most Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the run.

Taking the action at a furious pace, Hall with this company of male actors, portrayed as Victorian aristocrats tells this most bloody story of succession and rivalry, with violence bursting forth in livid shades of red - blood, roses and the cross of St George – against a monochrome set. With pulsing music ranging from Elgar to Brit Pop, the company explodes onto the Watermill stage for a limited six week run. See the reviews below.

Unfortunately, the reviews from The Times, the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and The Telegraph are no longer available.

The Guardian review is at

This is the NWN review.

Carving through the history of this nation

'Rose Rage', at the Watermill Theatre until March 17

At the opening of this magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Henry VI' trilogy, the knives are out. Quite literally, since director Edward Hall has set the sprawling action - spanning two separate performances and 33 years of English history - in an abattoir.

At the start of the performance, the intimacy of the Watermill auditorium is charged with the threat of bloodshed, as the entire cast of 11 male actors - dressed in white butchers' overalls and snoutish masks - scrape, tap, sharpen and finger the knives that later carve a bloody swathe through the feuding English nobility.

The production is staged in the round, the performance area is hung with hooks and chains. The actors - when not involved onstage - lurk in the wings, underscoring the action with more rhythmic tapping and scraping, and some fine singing of traditional hymns and airs. They work together, on and off stage, with singular commitment to the work, to each other, and to their audience.

Part I of Edward Hall and Roger Warren's pithy adaptation deals with the erosion of Henry V's triumphant conquests in France, as the English nobles jostle and bicker for position under the child-monarch Henry VI, barely held in check by the honourable Lord Protector Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

The infamous Wars of the Roses are initiated in a (fictional) scene where the antagonistic Dukes of York and Somerset pluck white and red roses respectively to symbolise their differences.

With the battle lines drawn, York - superbly played by Guy Williams - pursues an arguably legitimate, but highly provocative rival claim to the throne, and the whole nation is thrown into turmoil.

Part II follows the fluctuating fortunes of the warring York and Lancaster dynasties, with King Henry sidelined by his fiery French wife Queen Margaret (Robert Hands), and left to helplessly witness the tragic consequences of civil war. In one telling scene, he watches a distraught father mourn the loss of the son he has killed, and a son who has likewise murdered his own father.

By the end of the play, virtually all the central characters have met with violent ends, except the conquered Margaret and her triumphant victors, the three elder sons of York - including the malformed Richard, later to become king. The mischievously psychotic performance from Richard Clothier as the future monarch tantalisingly closes Part II with the famous first few fines from Richard III.

Rose Rage is daringly cut and shaped from Shakespeare's sprawling early work; we lose a good deal of material, but this cut-down version gives sharpness and drive to the production, and keeps us firmly focused on the central theme: the causes and effects of civil war.

Henry is portrayed by Jonathan McGuiness not as a wimp, but as a wide-eyed, almost Christ-like innocent. His gentle idealism is put into sharp relief against the background of naked ambition and political expediency reflected in those closest to him, and once the restraining influence of Gloucester is removed, violent chaos reigns.

And violence, it has to be said, is presented with full. force: if you have any residual sympathy for cabbages, you are going to be upset. Copious amounts of raw meat are equally given the chop. But relative to the horrifying news footage of contemporary civil wars around the globe, we are simply being asked to question the historical failure to learn that violence has never achieved, and never will, a lasting solution to human conflicts.

Edward Hall and his fine ensemble of actors are establishing a reputation as this country's most exciting and innovative interpreters of Shakespeare, and The Watermill assumes national significance as a venue when it hosts their work. Catch it while you can - it is a rare treat.


This is from Kick FM.

This is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VI plays condensed into two separate plays, both of which are quite short. You can see either of them on their own, or on most Thursdays and Saturdays you can see the first in the afternoon and the second in the evening.

As in a lot of Shakespeare, murder plays a large part, but although the plays are quite violent, nobody actually gets hit or stabbed. The violence is all done to lumps of raw meat and red cabbages. Whenever the action calls for someone to get stabbed, there's a slaughterhouse worker on stage as well, in white overalls and facemask, who does the business on a slab of raw meat. And if someone gets hit with a club, they batter the wotsit out of a red cabbage instead.

It's not for the squeamish, but the slaughterhouse is used throughout the play as a metaphor for the carnage that took place during the Wars of the Roses. It seems strange at first, but it soon becomes a natural part of the action. What the director Edward Hall has done in these two plays is to distil Shakespeare's original text into something that gives an incredibly clear picture of the conflicts and feuds that led to the Wars of the Roses. It’s a period of history that I knew little about, but the company brought it to life in a way that really impressed me. The acting is very good too, from the weedy King Henry, through the ambitious Duke of York, to his scheming son Richard, who later becomes Richard III. And as it's an all-male cast, Queen Margaret, who plays a major part in the two plays, is a bit different.

If you're put off going to see Shakespeare because you think it's too long or too difficult or too boring, give one of these plays a try. It isn't long; the language is still Shakespeare's but it's brilliantly clear; and boring it isn't – I guarantee you won't fall asleep. This is one of the most exciting pieces of Shakespeare I've seen, so make sure you catch it at the Watermill before the 17th March.


Here's the Reading Weekend Post:

Since chances to see the whole of Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy are scarce, the two-part adaptation by Edward Hall and Roger Warren which the Watermill Newbury is currently staging is very welcome.

Under the title Rose Rage it vividly dramatises a particularly violent era in English history, with nobles acting like Chicago mobsters in their power battles.

Directing his all-male Propeller company, previously seen at the Watermill in an award-winning production of Twelfth Night, Hall has created an enthralling and imaginative piece of theatre as you will find anywhere.

Although whole characters like Joan of Arc have been axed the complex stratagems of the houses of York and Lancaster have been made both comprehensible and exciting.

There is no soft pedalling of the horror, but done in a stylised way on Michael Pavelka's abattoir-like set it arouses fascination rather than disgust.

Although it is an impressive ensemble show, some striking individual performances emerge.

They include Jonathan McGuinness's Henry, vainly trying to uphold the dignity of the crown, Robert Hands's baleful Queen Margaret and Tony Bell's bovver-boy Jack Cade, a self-styled people's leader in whom Shakespeare makes clear his cynicism about populist rebellions.

Scholars have always argued about how much of these plays are the work of other hands and it is known that Shakespeare was not averse to collaboration.

But the ambition and over-all scheme of the trilogy seems clearly his, and such speeches as Henry's in which he wishes he was anything but a king have the unmistakable Shakespearean ring.


And here's a comment from a visitor to this site:

Forget Hannibal and Gladiator - see the wonderful Rose Rage at the Watermill Theatre. I saw it on the opening day and I'm still thinking about it, I just wish that you could buy productions like this on video and relive the magic! By the way, I thought King Henry was amazing.


This was from the Times in June 2002, before its transfer to the West End.

One of Sir Peter Hall’s early successes, achieved soon after he created the RSC in 1962, was his staging of a condensed version of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy entitled The Wars of the Roses. His son, Edward Hall, must have felt more than a little pressure when he directed Rose Rage, his own version of the same three plays at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury last year.

But it was a terrific success, notwithstanding a punning, in-yer-face title that led one critic to suggest that the York Crucifixion Play could sensibly be renamed Road Rage. Indeed, the reviews were so positive that the production is being revived for a six-week run at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

The play covers the ultra-bloody years of the 15th century, yet at times the piece has a worryingly topical feel. Hall has acknowledged this by updating the costumes of his all-male cast to the 20th century — pinstripes, lace dresses, pearl rope necklaces — and set the action in an abattoir. As the butchers chop up offal and hack up red cabbages, you can, in effect, feel and smell the civil war.

Should Hall have removed the scenes in which Shakespeare rubbished as a witch the woman we now know as Joan of Arc? Well, logic determines that when you compress three plays into one something has to be sacrificed. And, anyway, the critics felt that quite enough was left in: gruesome wit, grotesque fun, narrative momentum and plenty of dramatic intensity.

If Edward Hall’s career ladder is to match that of his father — and that looks decidedly possible — then Rose Rage will be cited as a key rung.