REVIEW: Stellar script and performances in magnificent new work on Leamington stage

Henry VII (Pete Meredith) and Lady Bessy (Elizabeth Morris)
Henry VII (Pete Meredith) and Lady Bessy (Elizabeth Morris)

Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Ballad of Lady Bessy, directed by David Fletcher at the Loft Theatre in Leamington

History is written by the winners, most of the time. Lately the roles of women have come to take centre stage.

The Ballad of Lady Bessy is a piece of revisionist history concerning Elizabeth of York and the powerful women around her. She was the daughter of Edward IV (Robert Lowe), sister of Edward V, niece of Richard III, mother of Henry VIII and wife of Henry VII (Pete Meredith): one of those characters on whom history turns, who oversaw the crown of England move from Plantagenet hands into Tudor. Yet she has been portrayed as a pawn in the games of powerful men. Not anymore.

David Fletcher’s magnificent play consists of a series of scenes behind closed doors. We witness the seismic tensions between Elizabeth (Elisabeth Morris) and her mother, Elizabeth Woodville (Susie May Lynch), who will try to do anything, including prostituting her daughter to her evil Uncle Richard, to gain power. We witness too her standoff with her mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort (Sue Moore), a truly formidable character determined to see her son thrive in power. Elizabeth’s guile, intelligence, charm and courage shine in a performance that rivals the best I’ve seen anywhere on any stage.

This is a play of massive egos, and it requires performances and a script to match. It succeeds by language and performance alone. The play is hagiography in the best sense, reinstating Elizabeth as a key figure in her time and a role model for ours. It’s an hour and a half of thrilling drama, and proves that its words, not effects, that have the greatest impact on our hearts and minds.

* The play runs until Saturday November 18. Call 01926 800360 to book.