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A previous artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company - Sir Michael Boyd - once described Shakespeare's early trilogy of history plays as combining the scope of War And Peace, The Sopranos and the Bible.

Anybody who experiences this latest Royal Shakespeare Theatre presentation of Henry VI Parts Two and Three will surely understand what he was getting at.

Here re-titled Rebellion and Wars Of The Roses respectively - and following on from Part One, which was shown online during lockdown - Parts Two and Three (presented on the same day, one after the other) are an absolute feast for the senses. Vividly told, they are magnificently epic, frequently exhilarating and hugely absorbing.

Featuring Shakespeare Nation community participants and members of the RSC’s Next Generation Act young company - performing alongside a professional cast - Rebellion hurtles through one of the most turbulent periods in English history. As the story unfolds, ordinary men and women rise in protest, while the fighting and division in the corridors of power escalates to an all-time high.

Words are then replaced with action in Wars Of The Roses. The families of Lancaster and York take to the battlefield and engage in brutal and bloody conflict, fighting their way through the greatest number of battles to be found in any of Shakespeare’s plays...

A story stretched across so many hours of theatre could easily be a story stretched too far, but director Owen Horsely keeps a steady hand on the tiller throughout. Deftly steering the action, he ensures the audience are way too engaged with the whys and wherefores of Henry’s chaotic reign to be distracted by the numb bums which can so often be the uncomfortable outcome of a theatre binge-watch.

With powerful and well-measured performances across the board from a necessarily high-energy cast - and impressive production values further recommending the shows - Rebellion and Wars Of The Roses are well worth several hours of any bard-loving theatre-goer’s time.

You have until Saturday 28 May (Rebellion) and Saturday 4 June (Wars Of The Roses) to catch this double dose of delicious drama, either on separate days from one another or, occasionally, on the same day.

Five stars

Reviewed by Adrian Tilson at Royal Shakespeare Theatre on Wednesday 20 April.

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