The Lion In Winter

Stage Whispers Review by Benjamin Orchard

A heady mix of explosive family melodrama, convoluted political intrigue and snarky screwball comedy, James Goldman’s 60s play has lost none of its bite over time, and is treated to a gloriously spirited production from the Therry Dramatic Society.

The year is 1183, and the court of King Henry II (Matthew Randell) is the setting for one of the most disastrous Christmas family-reunions in history. Henry’s wife, Eleanor (Celine O’Leary) has been imprisoned in the tower for instigating rebellion against Henry, yet despite their political disagreements they obviously still have feelings for each other and want the best for their children – the brutish military gloryhound, Richard (Jonathan Pheasant), coolly calculating politician, Geoffrey (Aaron McDonald) and sensitive but dimwitted John (Nick Duddy).  When the matter of succession comes up, it isn’t long before all pretence of civility is thrown to the wind and a brutal war of barbed words ensues. The conflict threatens to escalate into full blown war with the arrival of King Philip Of France (Robert Bell) at court, whose sister Alais (Ellie McPhee) is Henry’s mistress.

Randell and O’Leary have a shockingly intense chemistry, both as adversaries in political debate and as partners in a toxic, masochistic romance. Watching the sparks fly between these two as they engage in ferocious ham-to-ham combat is theatre magic at its most exhilarating, but they are also affectingly poignant in quieter moments that emphasise the wounded souls lurking beneath the characters’ spitfire wit.

The supporting cast are no slouches either, McDonald has moments of devastatingly scathing sarcasm, as he perfectly captures the seething resentment of the most intelligent, but least popular son. Pheasant is a similarly imposing figure when called upon to demonstrate Richard’s ruthless brutality. Bell at first comes across as something of a prissy fop, but it turns out these mannerisms are an affectation designed to mask a cunningly devious mind, and the actor plausibly conveys both the façade and the real man beneath.

Duddy and McPhee are unfortunate in that they are handed the most underwritten parts in Goldman’s script. John’s foolishness is painted in such broad strokes that it is very hard to see why anyone would consider him a serious contender for the throne, and the character is never given any opportunity to show hidden depths that would make him seem a worthy adversary in the power plays that go on. Alais’ romantic attraction to Henry, and various pivotal moments in her backstory, are only hinted at, rather than explored in depth. Duddy and McPhee struggle gamely to lend some nuance to these rather two dimensional roles, and this makes the characters less annoying than they could’ve been.

The attention to period detail in Nick Spottiswoode’s sets and Megan Dansie’s costumes is quite impressive, as are the subtle fluctuations in Richard Parkhill’s lighting, which ensure scene transitions are smooth and poignantly accentuate the drama of the play’s more intimate scenes.

Benjamin Orchard

 

ADELAIDETHEATRE GUIDE by Anthony Vawser

All families have their ups and downs – and when you're royalty in the twelfth century, the stakes (and potential consequences) are uniquely high. But the emotions that run through “The Lion in Winter” are all-too-recognisable as human – and possibly not so far from those in your own family, or mine.

If approached as a battle of wills and words, rather than swords and shields, there are pleasures a-plenty on offer here. James Goldman's script, first produced in the 1960s, is an ambitious framing of the machinations of historical figures in the manner of a contemporary marital/familial conflict drama, making sure to include a hearty helping of humour. There are general allusions to Greek and Shakespearean history/tragedy plays, but Goldman keeps 'Lion' relatively modern in its speech and overall sophistication.

While it is never less than interesting, there are times (mainly confined to the lengthy first act) when this production struggles to be truly compelling. Director Megan Dansie has ensured that the many crucial dialogue passages come through clearly to assist audience involvement, and her generally understated approach ensures that the script's intelligence remains in focus and is not obscured by any melodramatic bluster, but there is still the feeling that this show could afford a bit more electricity and vigour.

Scene changes are handled smoothly by stage manager Ray Trowbridge and his crew. Richard Parkhill's lighting is typically subtle but superbly warm and well judged. Set design by Nick Spottiswoode is generally effective at communicating a sense of time and place with maximum efficiency. Costumes (by Dansie) convey the appropriate level of regality without being distractingly lavish.

Matthew Randell's Henry II is a simply masterful performance, commanding the stage with richness of character and force of personality. Celine O'Leary's Eleanor of Aquitaine at first seems a trifle too soft and subdued, but the performance deepens and develops along with the character, and becomes ultimately impressive in its emotional power.

Jonathan Pheasant brings a striking physicality, vocal clarity and emotional sensitivity to Richard the Lionheart, but his delivery also has a tendency to feel mechanical at times. Aaron McDonald does well as the perpetually undervalued Geoffrey, Count of Brittany, strongly conveying a sense of repressed resentment and neglected intelligence.

Nick Duddy has some effective moments playing petulant Prince John as an over-grown adolescent, likewise Ellie McPhee as Alais, the young woman with an especially conflicted position in the grand scheme of this royal family's affairs. Robert Bell's King Philip of France comes close to slinking away deliciously with the whole show; it's a consummate portrayal.

This 'Lion' is well worth being patient with; it maintains a soft-and-steady purr before sneaking up on you and digging its claws in. You may even find yourself quietly wishing that today's royals were half as interesting and quick-witted as the family featured here...

 

Broadway World by Barry Lenny

The Therry Dramatic Society's latest production is The Lion in Winter, written in 1966 by James Goldman, and adapted by the writer two years later for the Academy Award-winning film of the same name. It is set in 1183 at a Christmas Court held by King Henry II, attended by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three surviving sons, Richard, John and Geoffrey. Eleanor has been imprisoned for a decade since inciting their sons to rebel against Henry in 1173, but she is allowed to attend certain court functions.

Also present is Alais Capet, supposedly engaged to Richard from the age of eight, but now 23 and Henry's mistress. She is the half sister of the King of France, Philip II Augustus, who also attends, challenging Henry over the failure of his obligation to have Alais marry Richard, as arranged when the dowry was given. Running throughout the play is Henry's obsession with who is to succeed him. His choice is John, but Eleanor favours Richard, and Geoffrey, who is ignored by both parents, plots against everybody on his own accord.

Eleanor is also eager to see Alais married to Richard, to break up the relationship between Alais and Henry, while Henry would like to divorce Eleanor and marry his mistress. The location is King Henry II's château and primary residence in Chinon, Anjou, within the Angevin Empire of medieval France but, in fact, there was actually no Christmas Court at that castle in 1183. Philip, incidentally, was the son of Eleanor's first husband, King Louis VII, by his third wife, Adelaide.

By the end of the play, and after all of the machinations and the devious conspirators making and breaking alliances, nothing has changed and nothing has been decided. After Henry's death it was Richard who became king, best known as Richard the Lionheart, and he was succeeded by John. Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, died before Henry.

As with Shakespeare's History Plays, there is a factual history underpinning this play, but the dialogue is all fictional. If I can coin a phrase, it is 'off-Shakespeare'. What better choice of a director, then, than Megan Dansie, who has made a name for herself directing Shakespeare's plays, winning Adelaide Critics Circle Awards for her work. She treats this as she would a work by the Bard, with close attention to the dialogue and its delivery by the cast. There is a focus on diction and enunciation, as well as on ensuring that the actors fully understand the significance of every interaction and every line spoken.

I will say, straight away, that this is one of the best works that I have seen presented by this company. Dansie is known for her skill in casting a production, and this is no exception. Matthew Randell is a commanding figure in the role of Henry, aging (he was 50 and Eleanor was 61 at this time) but still vibrant and powerful, a formidable foe. Celine O'Leary is a complete balance as Eleanor, making them the unstoppable force and the immovable object but, somehow, always just avoiding the ultimate collision. O'Leary's Eleanor is calm, collected, and she goes about her planning and plotting with cold logic, while Randell is fiery, emotional and his plans are made on the fly, reacting to the moment. They are chalk and cheese but, of course, opposites attract, and we soon see that theirs is a love-hate relationship, which these two superb actors explore with a great deal of subtlety.

The three sons are a very mixed group. John, the youngest at 16, is not the brightest person around and Nick Duddy presents him as a petulant, immature and confused young man, with all of the intrigues going way over his head causing out bursts of anger. Richard, on the other hand, is the eldest at 26, far more mature, and a warrior. Jonathon Pheasant exudes confidence and strength and looks every bit the future king and crusader. At 25 Geoffrey is the middle son now that the original eldest, Henry, has gone. Aaron MacDonald shows us that Geoffrey has found that the eldest is favoured, and the youngest is valued, but the one in the middle gets the least attention. Geoffrey, though, is also the smartest of the sons, and MacDonald's interpretation gives us a very crafty young man with the skills to manipulate the others.

Ellie McPhee plays Henry's beautiful and loving mistress, Alais. Now 23, she has been his lover for the last six years, but there is more to her than he realises. McPhee, in a well measured performance, allows her Alais to gradually increase in stature and show that she has learned a lot from those around her about intrigue. Robert Bell is Philip, only 18 but having already been a king for three years. Bell nicely conveys that youthfulness, coupled with a sense of the pressure to be a leader. Although Henry bests him at first, Bell strengthens Philip as the play progresses and Philip becomes more astute at the negotiations.

A big plus for this production is the very authentic costuming, designed by Dansie, who is an expert on mediaeval and renaissance clothing and everything else to do with those periods. One would normally only expect costuming like this from a well-funded professional company. The set and very detailed scenic art, by Nick Spottiswoode, lit by Richard Parkhill, period music during the set changes, and snappy work from the stage crew completed a thorough piece of work, be sure to see this production.

 

Adelaide Hills Weekender Herald – That’s Showbiz

Review by John Ovenden

 

The Therry Society’s drama “The Lion in Winter” is a magnificent all round production, brilliantly directed by Megan Dansie, and featuring Matthew Randell and Celine O’Leary in arguably the year’s finest acting outside of State Theatre. Here, Randell is the 12 century English King Henry the Second to O’Leary’s Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. In particular, their scenes together between a couple who cannot bear to be together, as well as apart, quickly ensure you forget the O’Toole-Hepburn 1968 Oscar winning movie version!

Elsewhere, the continual scheming of their three rebellious sons (Jonathan Pheasant, Aaron McDonald and Nick Duddy) induces much acerbic dialogue …. “What shall we hang to-day? The holly or each other” asks Henry… and …“Mother!” “Not now, dear. Mother’s fighting!”

It’s not surprising Henry jails his entire family!

Ellie McPhee and Robert Bell complete a tremendous cast, while a comprehensive program gives all the background you will need.

I cannot rate this production highly enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking!

Arts Theatre, Angas Street. Thursday-Saturday 8pm. Saturday matinee 2p.m.

 

Glam Adelaide

Review by Brian Godfrey

If English History has taught us anything, it’s that the royal families throughout history invented the phrase ‘dysfunctional family’ without ever knowing it. The perfect perpetrators of this popular phrase would probably have to be the Plantagenets – at least if James Goldman’s play The Lion In Winter is anything to go by.

Taking actual historical events from various times in Henry II’s life and combining them into one time and place – Christmas 1183, at the Castle at Chinon – Goldman gives us familial insight into Henry II; his exiled and imprisoned wife (whom he has allowed to come home for the holidays), Eleanor of Aquitaine; and his three surviving sons, Prince John (yes, THAT Prince John), Richard the Lionheart (yes, THAT Richard the Lionheart), and Geoffrey, Count of Brittany; with Henry’s mistress and John’s promised wife-to-be, Alais (I said they were dysfunctional), and her brother, King Philip of France thrown in for good measure.

There are power plays and struggles, murder plots and mind games, and a small sprinkling of incest and homosexuality (all the ingredients for a nice family Christmas) by the wine-barrelful as Henry decides to pick which son will become the next King of England after he has passed (see what we miss out on with the Windsors just handing it over to the eldest child of each generation). Henry favours John, whilst Richard is Eleanor’s favourite: sibling rivalry at its best!

Goldman’s script is dramatic, powerful and witty enough to have made it a contemporary classic: but put it in the skilled hands of director Megan Dansie and it sparkles and shines like a newly polished royal crown. Dansie has a very fine eye when it comes to historical accuracy and detail, powerful moments, beautiful theatrical visions and casting correctly. Her eye has worked well with this absolutely wonderful, highly entertaining, and colourful (thanks to her very appropriate historical costuming) night of theatre.

While Richard Parkhill’s lighting design is his normal, nicely unobtrusive standard, his lighting of the wine cellar scene surpasses even his usual brilliance.

Matthew Randell as Henry II is commanding in stature, maturely handsome in looks, and has one of the most powerful, beautifully articulated speaking voices you could ever wish for. He is entirely believable as both king and father, with his breakdown at the end of Act One spot on. His anguish in Act Two, however, is just a tad over-melodramatic for this reviewer’s liking.

Celine O’Leary IS Eleanor from go to woe, and never delivers a move or inflection incorrectly. O’Leary has the softness and warmth of a mother, the power of a queen and the fragility of a woman all down pat. Sounding a little like Deborah Kerr, this is one of those powerhouse performances not to be missed.

Newcomer Nick Duddy is nicely repugnant and childish as pimply-faced Prince John, and believe me, Adelaide audiences will be seeing a lot more of this young actor in many future roles (or there is no Theatre God!). As Richard, Jonathan Pheasant, in what could be a mediocre role, vitalises the part with his warrior-like attitude and honest steadfastness. It’s good to see Aaron McDonald back on stage and in such a deliciously acerbic role as Geoffrey – the part could have been written for him. McDonald’s wryness and arrogance as Geoffrey are superb.

Ellie McPhee as Alais gives a lovely performance, with just the right amounts of girlishness and guile combined; whilst Robert Bell gives yet another of his excellent performances as the slightly pouting boy-king, Philip – is there no stopping this young actor!?!

This lion roars and is most certainly the King of the jungle (well, Adelaide at least). Do yourself a right royal favour, sell your crown jewels, abdicate or whatever you need to do to get to see this extremely regal production of The Lion In Winter

 

TASA ENCORE by David Smith

Therry took on a significant challenge with this powerful James Goldman play, and did it justice. Experienced director Megan Dansie ensured the cast maintained the intensity of the intrigue in Henry II's family and court. The absorbing and ever-changing relationship between Henry and his wife, Eleanor, is critical. Matthew Randell and Celine O’Leary explored every delicious bit of their combative, yet at times funny and tender, exchanges. Randell blossomed in Act 2 and was all that Henry should be – on some occasions scheming, and at others vulnerable. O’Leary was a commanding figure, bringing a regal presence to her role. Her timing was exceptional, especially with her witty and occasionally understated retorts to Henry’s barbs and thrusts. Together they succeeded in exploring the subtlety of the power shifting between them.

Ellie McPhee impressed as Alais, betrothed to Henry’s son but, at the same time, Henry’s mistress. Her Alais had the strength to bring out her own character, even in the imposing presence of Henry and Eleanor. Nick Duddy was convincing as Henry’s youngest son, John, while Jonathan Pheasant and Aaron McDonald clearly drew out the contrasts between the older brothers” Richard the Lionheart and Geoffrey of Brittany.

 

The Goodbye Girl

BWW

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 4th June 2015

Therry Society's latest production,The Goodbye Girl, is the 1993 musical based on the film from 1977, with a book byNeil Simon, music byMarvin Hamlish, and lyrics byDavid Zippel. This production is under the seasoned team of director, Pam O'Grady, musical director, Mark DeLaine, and choreographer, Shenayde Wilkinson-Sarti. Between them they have assembled a terrific cast and created a most enjoyable production. DeLaine's orchestra provides strong accompaniment to the singers and dancers.
The casting of Lindsay Prodea, as Elliott, Fiona DeLaine, as Paula, and Henny Walters, as Lucy, is inspired. This is the finest performance that I have seen from Prodea so far which, considering his record of fine performances, is saying something. He brings a high level of authenticity to the role and convincingly conveys Elliott's changes of attitude to Paula.

DeLaine is equally memorable as Paula, brittle, angry, wary and with her self-confidence battered. DeLaine subtly displays Paula's insecurities, and the inner strength that she finds to keep going, gradually dropping her barriers and opening up to the possibility of a brighter future. There is a very believable mother/daughter relationship developed between her and Walters.

Walters is an absolute winner as Lucy, siding with her mother against the intruder but, discovering that Elliott is not the ogre that he first appeared to be and has turned out to be their friend, she warms to him All is well until Elliott and Paula fall for one another and Lucy shows her displeasure, fearing that Paula will be hurt once more. Walters shows all of these reactions, with many levels within each of them, in a performance that far more experienced performers would envy. This young lady is one to watch in the future. Put the three together and the interplay they develop between themselves is marvellous.......
Read full review here

 

Adelaide Theatre Review by Thomas

The Goodbye Girl, presented by Therry Dramatic Society
The Arts Theatre, Adelaide
June 4 to June 13, 2015
reviewed June 3, 2015 (preview performance)
Every so often, an amateur company will produce a brilliant and phenomenal production which leaves one speechless, only really being able to find one word in their vocabulary to describe the show, that word being, "wow!".The Therry Dramatic Society is one such company, with the presentation of their latest musical production, The Goodbye Girl, directed by the very obviously experienced Pam O'Grady. This hugely entertaining and basically faultless production by Therry has everything a great show should have: a fabulous set, a skilled orchestra, nice dance numbers, an efficient ensemble, and of course, a sensational team of principal actors.The Goodbye Girl, written by Neil Simon, is the hilarious musical romantic comedy based on the 1977 film of the same name.Set in New York, it follows the story of twelve year old daughter, Lucy, and her mother, Paula McFadden, a mid-30s woman who has been hurt by one too many guys. Much to her surprise, Paula's last boyfriend left without notice, and sublet her apartment to his friend, Elliot Garfield. When Elliot turns up at her house, the events which follow are very humorous.Paula must learn to live peacefully with Elliot, and both must work out how. Gradually, though, both become more comfortable with each other, and Paula must decide how she really feels about Elliot. The Goodbye Girl has music by Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), and lyrics by David Zippel. With music by Hamlisch, it is no surprise that this musical is one singular sensation. What is surprising, though, is that this musical only remained on Broadway for just six months;Therry's production leaves me wondering just why this musical had such a short run.Read the full review here