THE HOLLOW CROWN
Featuring Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Richardson. Presented by Triumph Entertainment Ltd & Mirvish Productions. Devised and directed by John Barton. To Feb 29. Tue-Sat 8pm, Wed, Sat & Sun 2pm. $26-$75. Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King W. 416-872-1212.
The overriding reason to see The Hollow Crown is to see four great British actors -- Alan Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Richardson and Sir Donald Sinden -- onstage together. Beside this, the director is John Barton, co-founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who originally wrote this entertainment in 1960, making the show a unique opportunity to gain some insight into the reasons the RSC has continued as a touchstone for acting in English.
The show itself is a trifle, first meant as a one-off divertissement, that happened to become a popular calling card for the RSC over the years, assembled from excerpts of plays, poems, diaries, trial transcripts and chronicles by and about British monarchs from William I to Queen Victoria. The four actors, books in hand, seated at a table in a bland set, exult in that great ability nurtured in British dramatic training of conjuring up characters and images by use of the voice alone. Redgrave is a rivetting Anne Boleyn in prison and a very funny 15-year-old Jane Austen as she pens her own gleefully biased English history. Richardson vividly contrasts Charles I and II, the first struggling to contain his outrage as a court condemns him, the second an upper-class twit announcing his marriage. Sinden uses his cavernous voice to great effect as a lubricious Henry VIII and a nearly gaga George III. Howard, a vocal chameleon, is hilarious as the priggish, Scots-accented James I issuing a condemnation of tobacco. Joining the actors is Stephen Gray, whose period songs and ballads often give us a glimpse of the common man.
Wonderful as it is to see these actors, the show is much like eating a plateful of hors d'oeuvres instead of dinner. At the end you feel hungry to see a real play.
The Eye Weekly, Toronto, vol 18, issue 13, 5.2.04.