more than 30 years since Edith Pargeter published her fictionalised
account of the battle and called it A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury.
last night saw the premiere of the first stage adaptation of the
Shropshire author's book, performed by the Bomere Health Players
and directed by Graham Colclough.
first challenge when adapting a play like this is to make sure it's
easy enough for the audience to follow without getting bogged down
in what was a very complicated situation indeed, or skipping any
play achieves this as a faithful adaptation, and it also shares
the novel's slant on the events of July 1403 in casting heroes and
Bloody Field by Shrewsbury is the first of two plays featuring
the battle to be performed in Shropshire this summer. As such it's
bound to draw comparisons with the second, an outdoor production
of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1, to be performed at Haughmond
Abbey in June. Click here to read
a review of Henry IV.
version of events is well-known for playing fast and loose with
the historical facts, but A Bloody Field doesn't sit on the fence
when it comes to characterisation.
far as this production is concerned, the king, Henry IV, is definitely
the bad guy - and this version of events is rammed home in the opening
minutes of the play, in a dungeon of Pontefract Castle.
the deposed King Richard II is being held by Henry, the man who
replaced him on the throne. And he is being deliberately starved.
is a troubled man, aged by the strain of power, and the Bloody
Field version of the man is choc-full of nasty personality traits.
Henry contemplates his crown
Baker, who plays the king, naturally makes the most of this. He
plays Henry as an extremely bitter man, arrogant yet insecure, lacking
any redeeming features and driven by envy.
jealous of the play's hero, the dashing knight Sir Harry 'Hotspur'
Percy, played by Martin Jones, and determined to bring him down
a peg or two.
fact, he's such a nasty piece of work that I wondered if I should
boo him - pantomime style - every time he made his bad-tempered
way onto stage.
such an obvious baddie, a good guy is needed to balance things out,
and that role is supplied by Harry Hotspur, leader of the rebel
portrayed as a whiter-than-white hero, noble, charismatic, bound
by the rules of chivalry and happy to lay down his life for the
I find it hard to believe that this was the case. Henry is seen
to behave in exactly the same way Richard did before he was deposed,
when in fact he was a far better king, while it's difficult to imagine
Hotspur risking all in a rebellion if there wasn't anything in it
if The Bard was happy to use poetic licence in order to spice up
the story a little, we can excuse Edith Pargeter for doing the same.
that minor criticism out of the way, the play still tells the story
in a compelling way from the point of view of the rebels and the
people of Shrewsbury. There's also a little love interest for the
virtuous (but married!) Hotspur and a young Welsh woman living in
moves on briskly through 29 scenes and two and a half hours in a
breathless fashion that keeps the audience abreast of all the twists
and turns in the plot.
despite minimal scenery and props demanded by a small scale production
and so many scenes, the staging was excellent, while costumes were
the rivalries of King Henry and Hotspur are woven the other main
characters: Prince Hal, the king's 15 year-old son, and the Welsh
rebel, Owain Glyndwr.
Hal, ably played by Joe Holland, is the victim of a sort of medieval
tug-of-love between his father and his boyhood mentor Hotspur, which
forms a central theme.
who was later to make his name as Henry V, victor at Agincourt and
conqueror of much of France, is plagued by a conflict of loyalties,
especially as he was looked after by the deposed Richard II during
his father's exile from England.
poster for A Bloody Field, depicting the lion emblems of the
Percys and the king
to form, the king is insanely jealous of Hotspur's relationship
with his son and is concerned Hal may even side with the rebels
when push comes to shove.
played by Alan Price, the rebel Welshman who Henry is unable to
defeat, is the catalyst for the Battle of Shrewsbury and the reason
why Hotspur ends up in this corner of the world.
the play moving along amidst all these personal stories is a tough
job, and the play uses three women of Shrewsbury for narrators as
an effective way of explaining what's going on.
with such grave subject matter, writer Chris Eldon Lee must have
thought it essential to inject some humour to lighten the mood somewhat.
to flooding in Frankwell being nothing new went down well with the
Music Hall audience, while Hal's admission early in the play that
he hoped 'to have a crack at the French one day' raised a titter,
on, two mercenaries - who keep changing sides - provide the laughs,
with some astute observations on medieval life and the battle itself
- not least the fact that most of the battle's main characters share
the same name - Henry.
play charts the deteriorating relationship between the king and
Hotspur, and Hotspur's efforts to first make peace with Glyndwr,
and then to side with him against the king.
also makes the most of the story of 'Sir Henry's dismay' and prophesies
of death on the battlefield in the lead-up to the climax of the
final battle scene was always going to be difficult, but it is carried
off well, with the help of the mercenaries and their bid to stay
on the winning side at all costs.
in the end the play was warmly appreciated by a full house.
Bloody Field by Shrewsbury runs until Saturday, 24th May at Shrewsbury
Music Hall. Performances start at 8pm.