at the theatre: the lion in winter

No trip to London would be complete without a trip to the theatre and save the various stage adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol few plays are as mistletoe-festive as James Goldman’s family feud nonpareil, The Lion in Winter. Set during the Christmas holiday at Henry II’s château in Chinon, France, the play – made famous by Katherine Hepburn’s Oscar-winning turn opposite Peter O’Toole in the film adaptation – concerns the gamesmanship between the King, his three sons, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife he’s imprisoned for attempting to overthrow him. Henry’s favored male heir has died, you see, leaving the leftover Plantagenets to scramble for power. Will it be the childish, spoiled John, Henry’s youngest son? Or Richard the Lionhearted, Eleanor’s choice – and best hope for getting out of the clink? And don’t forget about middle brother Geoffrey, who’s scheming with the King of France to make war on England. Though the historical background is accurate, this is fiction for the most part – and campy good fun that doesn’t take the Dark Ages too literally or seriously. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy watching a family plot against each other – especially when it’s the holidays and that family isn’t yours? Best of all, Trevor Nunn’s production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket stars Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley. As the equally matched King and Queen they don’t just chew the scenery, they savor it like a brandy-soaked Christmas pudding.

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