Tom Wright & Benedict Andrews - ‘The War of the Roses’, 2009
'Masterpiece’ is a chilly word: it takes a work out of the flux of creation and pins it in the gallery of cultural regard. When speaking of performance, it seems especially fishy. Still, put to the question, I’d nominate Tom Wright and Benedict Andrews’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays.
The final work of the STC Actors Company, this eight-hour epic presented in two parts demonstrated the depth and breadth an empowered ensemble can bring to performance. It was bookended by Richard II, with Cate Blanchett in the title role, and Richard III, led by Pamela Rabe. A naked stage adorned with a single visual gesture – endlessly falling gold foil or grey ash, an electric guitar or a field of broken flowers – became a metaphor for an Orwellian state of total war.
It featured astonishing performances from a brilliant cast, including Ewen Leslie’s breakthrough performance as Prince Hal. The austerity of Andrews’ direction foregrounded the power of Shakespeare’s language, excavating the visceral truths of its poetry through gruelling physical demands on the actors. It was desolatingly beautiful, as exhilarating an act of theatre as I have seen.