The Verdict: Critics Review Controversial U.K. Drama The Wars of the Roses | Playbill

The Verdict The Verdict: Critics Review Controversial U.K. Drama The Wars of the Roses The controversy-generating, previously announced epic nine-hour production of The Wars of the Roses opened officially at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, Oct. 3, following previews that began Sept. 16, for a run through Oct. 31.
Joely Richardson
Joely Richardson

The production incorporates William Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays, plus Richard III, to tell the story of the civil wars fought in 15th century England to determine the royal succession.

The cast of more than 20 actors is led by Joely Richardson, Robert Sheehan and Norwegian actor Kåre Conradi under the direction of Trevor Nunn. However, not one of that company is an actor of color, which led to complaints from both Equity U.K. and the Arts Council.

The critics have filed their reviews, and has collected them for our readers. Click through to read them all. will continue to update our list as the reviews come in. 


Evening Standard London Theatre 1

The Guardian

The Telegraph




<i>The War of the Roses</i> company
The War of the Roses company


Malcolm Sinclair, the president of Equity U.K., commented, "Whilst wishing every individual actor in the production well, can it be acceptable best practice in 2015 to cast a project such as this with 22 actors but not one actor of color or who apparently identifies themselves as having a disability?"

Equity U.K.’s minority ethnic members committee also chimed in, "To present this benchmark of British heritage in a way that effectively locks minorities out of the cultural picture [literally] flies in the face of the huge conversation taking place in British media at present, of the very real progress made in recent years to increase diversity in our industry."

Simon Mellor, executive director of arts and culture for Arts Council England (which does not fund the Rose Theatre), commented, "This production seems out of step with most of British theatre where casting that ignores an actor's race is increasingly the norm."

Nunn replied in a statement, "Having been involved since the early 1970s in the movement to cast, wherever possible, according to the principle of diversity, I am, of course, saddened to discover that Equity has criticised the casting for my current project.” He added: “I took the artistic decision that a trilogy of Shakespeare’s early history plays, telling in documentary detail the story of the English monarchy and English nobility in the second half of the 15th century, should be presented with, as far as possible, historical verisimilitude."


But those claims are contradicted by the fact that Norwegian actor Kare Conradi plays Edward IV, and two British actors, Joely Richardson and Imogen Daines, play the French characters Margaret of Anjou and Joan of Arc.

Richardson will play Queen Margaret, whose story runs through all three plays. She has previously appeared at the Rose in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea. Other theatre credits include Off-Broadway runs in Belle of Amherst (Westside Theater), Ivanov (Classic Stage Company) and Madam Melville (Promenade Theatre), and West End appearances in Lady Windermere's Fan (Theatre Royal, Haymarket) and Steel Magnolias (Lyric Theatre). TV credits include being a series regular in "The Tudors" and "Nip/Tuck."

Sheehan, who will play Richard III, has been seen onstage in The Playboy of the Western World at the Old Vic. On TV, he has been a series regular in "The Misfits" and "Love/Hate."

Conradi, who will play Edward IV, has appeared for the National Theatre of Oslo in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Little Eyolf, Peer Gynt, Pretenders and When We Dead Awaken.

The production was adapted from William Shakespeare's Henry VI Parts I, II & III and Richard III by John Barton in collaboration with Peter Hall. The associate director is Cordelia Monsey. The set design is by Mark Friend, from a concept by John Napier, with costumes by Mark Bouman, lighting by Paul Pyant, sound by Fergus O’Hare, fight direction by Malcolm Ranson and music by Guy Woolfenden and Corin Buckeridge. The casting director is Ginny Schiller.

To book tickets, contact the box office on 020 8174 0090 or visit

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