at Shakespeare’s Globe, Sunday 13th May 2012
As someone who is of a generation whose collective memory kicks in just as peace was being restored to the Balkans, it’s easy to forget the region’s turbulent past. Henry VI Part 3, presented by the National Theatre Bitola in Macedonian, manages to remind us of these terrible wars whilst maintaining a light-hearted tone, commenting on and joking about the nature of conflict.
John Blondell’s production is smart, stylish and slick. In a pared back and intelligent aesthetic, everyone wears a deep blue, with accessories to determine whether their allegiance is to York or Lancaster. Heightened violence mixed with a brutal honesty keeps the battle scenes sharp, but when necessary we are left alone with the characters and the words to allow Shakespeare and the actors to work their magic.
The divisions here are clearly along family lines, and care has been taken to make relationships between the characters truthful. Edward (Ogne Drangovski), Richard (a vicious terrier-like Martin Mirchevski) and George (Filip Mirchevski – the brother of Martin, I assume) are a brilliant trio, and their roles are balanced perfectly. In contrast to Drangovski’s laddish Edward is Peter Gorko’s gentle, wise Henry VI, tired of the fighting but egged on by those around him.
Most impressive in this production are the women. When Gabriela Petrushevska’s marvellously persuasive and headstrong Margaret meets with Sonja Mihajlova’s manipulative Warwick and Kristina Hristova Nikolova’s flamboyant Lewis of France, we are treated to one of the best scenes in the production. Their initial hostility quickly becomes a realisation of their shared power, acting as metaphor for the role of women in conflict.
What makes this production so successful, then, is the way it handles contrast: men with women; peace with war; funny with serious; real with surreal; solitude with madness. This hinges on the soliloquies of Henry and Richard towards the end of the first act, delivered with wit and eloquence, underscored neatly by Miodgrag Nećak. And though the thought that what we are witnessing is a putting to rest of the Balkan’s difficult past is probably aided by the presence of the Albanian and Serbian companies earlier in the day, it can’t be helped considering these complex and wide-ranging plays as allegories for the not-so-distant past.