Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Summer Shakespeare players tackle Henry I

The theatre company behind Henley’s well-received summer Shakespeare will make history next week when it stages the world premiere of a play, Henry I of England, directly above the site where the king - the youngest son of William the Conqueror - is thought to have been laid to rest.

The theatre company behind Henley’s well-received summer Shakespeare will make history next week when it stages the world premiere of a play, Henry I of England, directly above the site where the king - the youngest son of William the Conqueror - is thought to have been laid to rest.

Back in June the Reading Between the Lines theatre company wowed audiences with its production of Twelfth Night on the putting green at Mill Meadows.

The show ran for 10 nights and proved popular with audiences at the height of summer.

But with the nights now drawing in, the company is preparing to tackle somewhat darker subject matter.

Henry I of England is being staged at St James Church in Abbot’s Walk, Reading, next door to Forbury Gardens and a short walk from Reading Station, from Wednesday (November 2) to Saturday, November 19.

Henry I ruled from 1100 to 1135 and was one of the most influential kings in English history. He founded Reading Abbey and made the town a European powerhouse.

He fought for gender equality and, although an extremely harsh man, he respected women and intelligence, had a genuine love for those close to him and a complex conscience that grew as he aged.

Henry I was father to over 20 illegitimate children. Henry’s legitimate son, two of his illegitimate children, niece, two favourite captains and 300 nobles all died when The White Ship crashed on the way home from France, because everyone was drunk.

Both his brothers, Richard and William Rufus, died in suspicious circumstances in separate incidents in the New Forest. He also imprisoned his brother, Robert, for 26 years.

Henry died of a “surfeit of lampreys” (eating too many eels). He was sewn into a bull’s carcass and shipped from Normandy back to England, to Caversham, and from there up to Reading Abbey.

St James Church, where the play is being staged, is built within the ruins of Reading Abbey, below which Henry I is believed to be buried.

Written by Beth Flintoff, Henry I of England is billed as a modern history play of contemporary relevance.

When William the Conqueror announces his successor to the thrones of Normandy and England, his youngest son Henry gets nothing. With no-one but a loyal priest and clever sister to back him, he is caught like a pawn between two older brothers in their fight for power.

But Henry is bright and determined, and fate seems to be on his side. As power surges into his hands, while love beckons and the world falls at his feet, can he keep a firm grip on his own integrity?

A complex man, Henry I had an extraordinary life, as brave as it was tyrannical. His family life was turbulent and his personal losses profound, but his fight for gender equality, civil order and a unified England make his spiritual journey one of the most fascinating in history.

Henry I of England is directed by Hal Chambers and designed by Rosanna Vize with lighting designed by Oliver Welsh. Music performed live by the company is composed by Benjamin Hudson and Rosalind Steele and choreography is by Gareth Taylor.

Reading Between The Lines’s compelling new play of epic proportions follows its recent production of Oscar Wilde on Trial performed inside Reading Gaol as a major feature in Artangel’s Inside project.

Oscar Wilde On Trial was also written by Beth Flintoff and Henry I of England is being staged as part of a programme of events celebrating Reading Year of Culture 2016.

Performances take place from Monday to Friday at 7.30pm and on Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm.

On Wednesday (November 2), when the play previews, audience members are invited to pay whatever they want (from £5). The following Wednesday a post-show discussion is being held, with tickets priced £16 and £20. Friday, November 11, is “Tweet Night” and the following day there is a signed/relaxed performance at 2.30pm.

For full details, and to book online, go to www.readingbetweenthelines.co.uk

(Please note that Henry I of England contains scenes of a violent nature and is not suitable for children under the age of 14 unless under parental supervision.)



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