The Hollow Crown


It is 44 years since John Barton compiled and directed this four-hander entertainment: an anthology, taken from old chronicles, histories and diaries, of the lives, and often the deaths, of English kings and queens from the Norman conquerors to Victoria. This revival, with Alan Howard, Richard Johnson, Donald Sinden and Harriet Walter, is an exhibition piece: of humour, intelligence, ruthless but elegant mockery and that ironic understatement of which English actors are such masters. The speaking of the texts is an object lesson in clarity: not old-fashioned declamation, but crisp, observant character sketches in which every word has weight and life. Everyone will love this wonderful show, because English people need their monarchy as they need their foul weather and icky food. Kings have been exiled or imprisoned; tortured, murdered or executed; threatened, mocked, lectured and patronised. Yet the moment it looks as if a royal house might die out, agents are dispatched to look for remote descendants in Germany, Timbuktu, even Scotland. Barton's show, like the monarchy, should last unto the crack of doom.

John Peter

The Sunday Times, 13.3.05