June 28, 1977 | The Royal Shakespeare Company
The critics praised the RCS’s marathon performance of all three parts of “Henry VI.” George Anderson wrote for the Post-Gazette (June 6, 1978): “The Royal Shakespeare Company, besides staging the festival at Stratford-upon-Avon, mounts a repertory season at the Aldwych Theater in London’s Covent Garden section. The current bold idea is to perform consecutively “Henry V” and “Henry VI, Parts I, II and III” with the same hard-working company. Director Terry Hands does not shrink from the stormy violence of it all, setting his actors to hacking at each other hazardously with sword and mace. And the emotional pitch such combat requires is also thunderously maintained in this sweeping pageant of power and passion. Alan Howard plays the title role in a passively bemused manner somehow suggestive of both Peter O’Toole and Stan Laurel. The large, skillful company is uniformely impressive, espcially Emrys James, Helen Mirren, Peter McEnery, Juliane Glover and James Laurenseon. The production compares favorably with the best Shakespearan theater I’ve ever seen.
Doing Shakespeare at Stratford was a real learning curve. It’s a barn of a theatre and therefore very vocally demanding. Obviously you’re dealing with the verse and arcane language – trying to make it modern and understandable to the audience. It wasn’t until I got into “the Henries” – Henry V parts one, two and three – that I realised I had a voice and a bit of technique. It no longer felt like I was riding a horse and just trying to hold on without falling off. Part of our job (as actors) is to make it look easy. It’s unfair in a way, because it isn’t. It’s actually very difficult. A huge amount of technique has gone into a successful performance on stage, but you’ve got to make it look natural. (Helen Mirren, June 2013)
The Daily Telegraph’s John Barber was in praise of Mirren’s Queen Margaret (July 15, 1977): “Beautiful Helen Mirren, as the Queen, has that famous moment where she smears York’s face with a handkerchief red with his son’s blood, only to be thrillingly reviled by him as a she-wolf. Clothed in steel, chestnut hair awry, Mirren gives a fine demonstration of a snarling actress hard at work, but she lacks nobility of mien and total identification with her role.” Irving Wardle remembered the performance for The Intelligent Life (Spring 2009): “In taking on this huge role Mirren had to escape the long shadow of Peggy Ashcroft’s youth-to-old-age performance of the 1960s. Emotionally she went through the same blood-stained hoops, but outwardly she played Margaret as a regal Dorian Gray: arriving on the French battlefield as a tough, sexy teenager, and surfing her way to the end on a tide of erotic passion and erotic hatred. Whether cradling the head of a banished lover or favouring a vanquished enemy with a poisonous schoolgirl smile before stabbing him, her face, as Shakespeare says, was “unchanging”.