Courtesy of the “Reading-on-Thames Festival“, which is sadly a misstatement when clearly Reading’s whole history is based on the River Kennet, came free culture in the form Reading Between the Lines Theatre Company’s play The Life and Death of Reading’s King. For the lucky 700 ticket holders on the night of 15 September this was a history making moment.
The play, written by Beth Flintoff and directed by Donnacadh O’Briain, was performed on both sides of the River Kennet between the two pedestrian bridges under leaden skies, drizzle and rain. As always there were strong performances by Toby W Davies (Henry), Morgan Philpott (William Rufus, William the Conqueror and rebel leader), Emma Ballentine (Henry’s wife), Laura Howard (Adela, Henry’s sister) and Dani McCallum (Matilda, Henry’s daughter). They were given marvellous support by the Berkshire Theatre School Ensemble and community ensemble.
The sound was excellent and when I closed my eyes I thought I was listening to a play on BBC Radio 4. Yes, it was that good! Henry I’s story is one of creating 30 years of stability in medieval England (no mean feat), his need to procreate (three legitimate offspring and 24 illegitimate offspring), a period of immense brutality as he put down perceived rebellion in Normandy, and intriguing relationships with the important women in his life – wife, sister and daughter. And of course finally why he needed to build the abbey in Reading, then but a small village.
This was a first class, absorbing play and, despite the elements, kept the audience riveted until the end. I advise you all to see the next chapter, Matilda the Empress, which will be performed inside St James’s church in November. Thanks must also be given to the Oracle Shopping Centre for giving permission for the performance to be staged.
The watering holes of Katesgrove Hill are still debating who has helped Reading more; Henry for creating the abbey or councillor Tony Page who has had his fingerprints all over the development of the town for more than 40 years. What we need now is a play about Tony (uncrowned King of Reading); his life and times in the service of Reading.