Tag Archives: Sarah Jane Booth

Henry I

Henry I


Reading Abbey Ruins

HENRY I  at Reading Abbey Ruins


Henry I

“a stand-out exemplar for other locally-rooted companies wishing to make drama that speaks compellingly to their audiences”


When Game of Thrones and other big budget spectaculars grab the headlines and audiences, how can 900 year old stories be brought to the stage in a way that will speak to modern audiences? This is the challenge with which Reading based company Rabble have been engaged since their founding in 2012.

This latest production is their biggest yet. Based on a show that premiered in 2016, it follows the life of King Henry I of England from the moment his father William the Conqueror died in 1087, to his own death 48 years later. This is raw and visceral theatre. The writing is not cod historical but vivid and gripping.

Eleventh century lives were short and men’s war-making was brutal. But this play is also feminist to its core, placing women at its heart, both in casting women actors in male roles and in depicting the pivotal roles women played in the story.

Rabble’s vision is also community-based and often site specific. Over 500 members of the local community were involved in bringing this epic to the stage. It sits in a sequence of linked history plays the company have developed. They appear amongst the professionals in the show and continue to be involved in workshops around the play which tours to Winchester and the Actor’s Church in London after its Reading run. In Reading it is performed in the ruins of the great abbey Henry I built to expiate his memory, and where he lies buried. There’s a further frisson. The final scene is performed on the very spot where the events depicted occurred.

Beth Flintoff’s Henry I uses a rich variety of story-telling techniques to bring a great swathe of history to dazzling life. Characters speak directly to their audience about their future. Climactic crowd scenes play out in slow motion with compelling lighting effects by designer Michael Brenkley. Many of the costumes by Sarah Jane Booth are a lush riot of satin and velvet and her spare set suits the full-on and physical drama to a tee.

Amongst an outstanding cast, Toby W Davies is excellent as Henry I. Whilst some other characters occasionally veer close to parody, he gives a compellingly real performance of vulnerability and struggle amongst all the rabble-rousing. Georgie Fellows is his queen and Mabel. Like the exceptional Amy Conachan (Adela Countess of Blois), she gives a blisteringly feisty performance of a woman at the heart of the action.

Greg Barnett is a wonderful embodiment of lip-smacking evil as Robert de Belleme. Mark Middleton is a peevishly inadequate brother to Henry and has some moments of fine comedy. Gabrielle Sheppard cuts a swaggering dash as William Rufus and William Atheling. Anjelica Serra gives an equally energetic and compelling performance in this high octane show that delighted the first night crowd. Joseph Black has huge stage presence as Bishop Roger and Conran.

Many other performers give wonderfully energetic and committed performances in this brilliant show which is a warmly recommended triumph for Rabble. It is also a stand-out exemplar for other locally-rooted companies wishing to make drama that speaks compellingly to their audiences. Congratulations to Director Hal Chambers for bringing this production to such electrifying life.



Reviewed on 15th June 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Alex Brenner


Further dates:

12th – 15th July 2023
Winchester Great Hall, Winchester

20th – 22nd July 2023
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London




Previously reviewed by David:


Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | February 2023
Cybil Service | ★★★★ | VAULT Festival 2023 | January 2023
Barefoot in the Park | ★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | July 2022
Spike | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | January 2022
Dorian | ★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | October 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Persephone's Dream

Persephone’s Dream



Persephone's Dream

Persephone’s Dream

The Cockpit Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd September 2020



“thirty minutes of appreciation of all the odd, disjunctive tricks that dreams, good and bad, can play on us”


Persephone’s Dream, put together from a concept and libretto by Tania Holland Williams, has been created by a company that only began working together, and then remotely, after the beginning of the pandemic. Billed as a “digital/live hybrid opera”, this piece is part of a socially distanced live performance series at the Cockpit Theatre brought together by the Tête á Tête Opera Festival. But if you missed the September 18th performance in house, or the September 22nd interactive broadcast online, don’t worry. A recording of the interactive broadcast will be available, also online, for 28 days.

Persephone’s Dream is an intriguing work, with some inspired touches. Some touches are well realized—some don’t go far enough. Given the difficult circumstances of any act of artistic creation at the moment, this is not surprising. And thirty minutes is a sensible performance time if you are performing indoors during a pandemic. But it is also a challenge if you are tackling profound subjects (including that of the pandemic itself) that need time, space (and decent lighting) to develop into something of special significance.

Persephone’s story is well known. Holland Williams takes the Greek myth as her starting point, but instead of focusing on Persephone above ground in her Spring and Summer guise, she
introduces us to Winter Persephone. This is the Persephone who spends her time in Hades, dreaming of her return to her mother, Demeter’s, world. From the confines of the underworld, Holland Williams’ libretto encourages us to make the connection with the confines of the pandemic. Persephone spends considerable time singing of pursuits like gardening and dog walking—subjects that take on a heightened significance when you are enduring winter—or lockdown. In Persephone’s Dream, we are all encouraged to dream of the things we can’t do until the end of the pandemic. It’s a bold, and engaging, concept.

Inspired touches in Persephone’s Dream include two female performers onstage, accompanied by a “Chorus of Curious Eyes”. Anna Brathwaite sings us into an appropriate dream state as Persephone, while Clare O’Connell accompanies Brathwaite with both cello and voice. In addition to singing, Brathwaite’s Persephone spends most of her time winding and unwinding herself in her remarkable costume, which includes a chess set attached to the front of it. In fact, it’s not so much a costume as a set design. (Kudos to Sarah Jane Booth, in charge of both costume, stage and digital design.) Another inspired touch is the “Chorus of Curious Eyes” which is the digital component of this opera. The Chorus is composed a mosaic of faces, projected onto a large screen. Each face, broadcast live, accompanies the action on stage in different ways. Intriguing as this is, however, much more could have been made of the Chorus. Viewers of the broadcast version online will also feel a certain frustration at being unable to see much of the detail on this screen, since the camera doing the recording is so far away.

But Persephone’s Dream is intriguing enough to be worth a visit, even viewed online. It’s thirty minutes of appreciation of all the odd, disjunctive tricks that dreams, good and bad, can play on us. A timely reminder, when we look back on these extraordinary times, at how we might remember the dreams we had while trapped in hell.



Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Claire Shovelton


Tete a Tete

Persephone’s Dream

The Cockpit Theatre as part of Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2020 also available online

Previously reviewed by Dominica:
Jason Kravits – Off The Top | ★★★★★ | Live At Zédel | January 2020
Us Two | ★★★ | The Space | January 2020
Crybabies: Danger Brigade | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Fireworks | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Luna | ★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Our Man In Havana | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Revisor | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | March 2020
Sky In The Pie | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
The Revenger’s Tragedy (La Tragedia Del Vendicatore) | ★★★★★ | Barbican | March 2020
The Tempest | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | March 2020


Click here to see our most recent reviews