>THE LION IN WINTER by The Stage Club

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 24 feb 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Once again, just for Christmas, the scorned queen mother is let out for the festivities: into a throne room where squabbles over matters of state become the metaphor for competition over affection. The central issue of who will succeed the king thus becomes the locus for both dramatic action and emotional warfare.

Eleanor (Maureen McConnell) is the woman who inhabits the role as Queen of England after being removed from France, where she was queen. In England, therefore, and subsequently spurned by her new consort, she falls to frustrating King Henry II (Philip McConnell), all in a bid for attention. In their mutual game of sadism, both monarchs play their children (and whoever is near enough) as chess pieces, each move calculated to bring grief to the other. However, all characters without exception are infused with a sense of self-determination that refuses to be a mere actor in another play.

Thus on a stage where figures constantly plot, counter-plot, where quick reversals and spontaneous confessionals overturn any sense of reality, the audience is made to abandon the credibility of any character. Indeed, one becomes conscious of how every action is used, re-assembled and retold to gain an advantage in this sea of intrigue. Playwright James Goldman has thus scripted a play wherein reporting becomes central. Furthermore, the artifice of each character's presentation of truth becomes heightened by the theatricality of the whole performance, and vice versa.

>>'One becomes conscious of how every action is used, re-assembled and retold to gain an advantage in this sea of intrigue.'

While the water-tight script calls into existence these philosophical negotiations of reporting and credibilty, the scene changes effected quite a different response. Unlike a Brechtian piece which plays up alienating elements of staging (such as costume changes), THE LION IN WINTER is bound by its genre not to. Thus, it was a minor irritation to see stage-hands mince around with checklist in hand and flicking pocket lighters between scenes. It would have been better if the stage-crew were outfitted as servants, or at least uniformly attired in black.

Fortunately, strong acting more than made up for this blunder. In particular, McConnell cut an evocative figure of ageing vitality. But it was the queen who was running the show that night. McConnell was an acerbic wit to savour: her portrayal of Eleanor swung effortlessly between conniving queen and desperate has-been, sprinkling stinging lash to all her lines.

However, youthful King Philip of France (Jason Wee) proved to be a problematic emblem. In the play, not only is France portrayed as unstable foreign power next to 12th Century England on one level, but Frenchmen suggestively become an alien of possibilities on another. Because the script inscribes a homosexual relationship between Philip and one of the Princes of England, France-Frenchmen become the space-object of doubt and desire simultaneously. What having Wee to play the part seems to further underscore is the Other-ness of this foreign body. The exoticism of Asia (embodied by the erotically half-covered Wee) thus becomes conflated with the queerness of the gay Frenchman persona to produce a highly foreign identity.

However, because Philip as a role unseats (albeit briefly) the quietude of the royal family, he is defaulted a threat. At least according to Goldman, the identity of 12th Century England was threatened by the Other-ness of France. That is why Philip is written as the foreign danger for inevitable vilification. However, if The Stage Club casts Wee as Philip, what is by extension vilified? And because of whose threatened identity?

Upon this stage of eyes, ears and mouths, the distance between playwright, play, actor and audience narrows. Because THE LION IN WINTER is a play where reporting is central, interpretation becomes implicated. And because interpretation is implicated, the audience becomes implicated as spectator into the matrix of the theatrical enterprise. Questions of credibility and intentionality become therefore not only confined to the stage, but expand to include all participants of the theatrical enterprise.