Review: War of the Roses Live @ Warwick Castle
Flames were lit and lances lowered during a floor-pounding charge through one of British history’s most bloody conflicts. The pulsating War of the Roses show barely gave the all-ages crowd packing the wooden stalls at the sides of a jousting arena pause to finish off ice creams.
Invited to file into the spectator galleries supporting the House of York on one side and House of Lancaster on the other, the audience raised cheers and boos while the protagonists of the venomous feud took us back to 1455 with a stamping of hooves and clash of steel.
Charging into the intractable dispute that initially revolved around two death-locked branches of the royal family under Henry VI and his cousin Edward IV respectively, the combatants lunged into chest plate-beating performances with battlecries, jousting and swordplay aplently.
Knights on horseback galloping in with lances lowered made for one of the most enthralling stunts, the clash of wood taking place at speed and close to a roped-off spectator line.
But there was also a dollop of blue and red pageantry as the characters dashed and swaggered from one end of the strip to the other, flags aloft on horses sporting fly rugs showing the rider’s allegiance.
Pointy visors down and in full metal armour, the knights demonstrated their martial prowess with the wooden lancing poles, piercing flames, sending splinters flying and charging down dummies as the twice-daily show unfolded over a chain mail-ripping half an hour that was all about the disputed crown.
Recreated over the length of the sandy arena around 200 metres long, all the key moments of the royal blood feud were suitably amplified, including the role of the castle’s own legend Richard Neville, a formidable powerbroker who earned the nickname Warwick the Kingmaker.
The action also took a spear-headed charge through the Richard III story, with an appearance by the princes in the tower, and had the deposed king himself shout the Shakespeare line “a horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” in one of the crisply-acted battle sequences.
It was a storybook ending to a thrilling, palpitating spectacle that took all ages and nationalities on a relentless charge through the blood-soaked power struggle
Over the river from the jousting arena Richard III’s short and brutal reign is symbolised by his unfinished work on the Bear and Clarence Towers, among a number of places in the castle’s main grounds that form a real-life backdrop to the War of the Roses story.
Jousting is also strongly linked to the castle, with Warwick having been granted a licence for the practice of the battlefield art in 1194. Legend has it that Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, was the greatest exponent in English history, having never been beaten.
Heels and hooves finally came to a shuddering halt with the advent of the Tudors as flares were lit and flags raised aloft for a new dynasty, the closing chapter played out at one end of the sand-covered arena that lies under the castle’s skyloft trebuchet.
It was a storybook ending to a thrilling, palpitating spectacle that took all ages and nationalities on a relentless charge through the blood-soaked power struggle.
The fate of England may no longer rest at Warwick Castle, but this account of those who fought, perished and prospered in its pursuit is more than worthy of its place under the battlements.
*Review of 12.30pm show on 13.8.18 by Yunzy