Review by Sally Putnam – April 2012
Jean Anouilh's Becket examines the human side of the quarrel between Henry II and Becket. To whom do you owe allegiance – the king or God – and how does allegiance manifest itself?
Becket and Henry II were men whose self-belief led them to think they could take on the world and remake it in their own image. They were arrogant, clever, physical, brutal and inspirational by turns.
If only this was true of the performances.
As Gwendolene says, "I do not always understand what my lord says." Samuel Rogers, as Henry and Stephen Tongun (Becket) were difficult to understand, with poor diction, lack of pace and insufficient light and shade in their performances. Rogers came across as a petulant toddler rather than a powerful, sensual king.
Notable exceptions were David Roach as Bishop of London, Nicholas Ely (Louis VII) and Shona Benson as Gwendolene. Roach brought gravitas and understanding while Ely demonstrated how to deliver Anouilh's comedic lines and was rewarded with the audience's laughter. Benson's diction and stagecraft stabilised the scenes she was in.
Technically, Independent Theatre's production was excellent. Light, sound, set and costumes all had its usual professional feel; the result of hours of hard work and dedication. However the frequent moving of the columns proved a distraction.
Rob Croser has a reputation for directing quality theatre. This time the two main characters were miscast and the production failed to produce any sense of the vitality, physicality and friendship shared by Henry and Becket.