For some, the thought of sitting in a theatre listening to four people spewing on about the kings and queens of England is about as exciting as watching paint dry. For others, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Howard, Sir Donald Sindin and Ian Richardson could stand on stage and merely read out the listings from a telephone book and the audience would be rapt in awe.

As was the case at the opening of The Royal Shakespeare Company's The Hollow Crown, a pastiche of music, poetry, letters, and other writings from chronicles, plays and speeches right out of the mouths of monarchs.

This anthology of words and music about the "fall and foibles of the kings and queens of England," is a rare form of entertainment - a kind of once-in-a-lifetime event. Devised by director John Barton in 1960, The Hollow Crown has since become an acknowledged theatre classic and a RSC rite of passage, but, more importantly, a badge of honour for those actors who dare to deliver the subtly comical lines and long-winded whimsical passages.

But an audience aiming to feast its eyes on elaborate sets and costumes might want to wait for the return of the Lion King. What matters here is a real appreciation for how these acclaimed thespians confidently deliver everything from the pomp of a coronation speech to royal attempts at poetry on a stage with the casualness of a rehearsal hall.

It's no surprise to see the accolades of these four accomplished actors drip off the pages of the production notes. But any mention of the Academy-Award won by Redgrave for her role in the film Julia is conspicuously absent. Ironic, that after more than a quarter century since her infamous 1978 acceptance speech, she still can't make light of her own suffering at the hands of Hollywood, but in The Hollow Crown, she has no problem as Jane Austen at 15, waxing poetic about the shenanigans of the royal courts of Henry. But, then again, it's rumored that the stunning La Redgrave also refused the title of Dame of the British Empire.

Alan A. Vernon

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