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The Life and Death of King John

Plot Summary

King Richard I, the revered 'Lionheart', is dead. His brother John has become King of England, but the French argue that the throne should belong to the boy Arthur, son of John's deceased older brother Geoffrey. Matching the dispute over the throne is a dispute over inheritance in the noble Falconbridge family. It is discovered that Philip Falconbridge (the 'Bastard') is the illegitimate son of Richard I; he is accordingly knighted 'Sir Richard and Plantagenet'. French and English forces fight for the town of Angiers in France; a citizen proposes that the opponents should be united by a marriage between Lewis the Dauphin, heir to France, and John's niece, Lady Blanche. Arthur's mother Constance is furious that the French have given up on her son's claim. John is excommunicated for failing to agree to the Pope's choice for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. The papal legate Cardinal Pandulph stirs the French to resume war against the English. Arthur is captured and John commissions his servant Hubert to execute the boy; young Arthur dies from a fall while trying to escape. John changes his mind and agrees to the Pope's wishes. A French invasion force is shipwrecked. John falls sick and dies. His son Henry becomes king, though the Bastard remains the most forceful character.


RSC Staging History 1960-2007

1970 RST/1971 Theatregoround: Buzz Goodbody

Christopher Morley, Andrew Sanders (design); Brian Harris (lighting); Guy Woolfenden (music)

Patrick Stewart (King John), Norman Rodway (Philip the Bastard), Sheila Burrell (Constance), John York (The Dauphin), Antony Langdon (Hubert), Peter Needham (Philip of France), Eileen Beldon (Eleanor), Philip Locke (Pandulph), Richard Jones Barry (Pembroke), Ted Valentine (Peter of Pomfret), Colin Mayes (Arthur), Celia Quicke (Blanche)

1974 RST/1975 Aldwych: John Barton, Barry Kyle

John Napier, Martin Bainbridge, Ann Curtis (design); David Hersey (lighting)

Emrys James (King John), Richard Pasco/Ian McKellen (Philip the Bastard), Sheila Allen (Constance), Jonathan Kent (The Dauphin), David Suchet (Hubert), Clement McCallin (Philip of France), Hilda Braid (Eleanor), Jeffery Dench (Pandulph), Richard Mayes (Pembroke), Benedict Taylor (Arthur), Louise Jameson (Blanche), Janet Whiteside (Lady Faulconbridge), Denis Holmes (Salisbury)

1988 TOP/1989 Pit: Deborah Warner

Sue Blane (design); Chris Parry/Robert Jones (lighting); Guy Woolfenden (music)

Nicholas Woodeson (King John), David Morrissey (Philip the Bastard), Susan Engel (Constance), Ralph Fiennes (The Dauphin), Robert Demeger (Hubert), David Lyon (Philip of France), Cherry Morris (Eleanor), Antony Brown/Julian Curry (Pandulph), Darryl Forbes-Dawson/Simon Dormandy (Limoges), Richard Bremmer (Pembroke), Roger Watkins (Peter of Pomfret), Lyndon Davies (Arthur), Julia Ford/Caroline Harding (Blanche), Denise Armon/Cissy Collins (Lady Faulconbridge)

2001 Swan/2001-02 Pit: Gregory Doran

Stephen Brimson Lewis (design); Tim Mitchell (lighting); Corin Buckeridge (music)

Guy Henry (King John), Jo Stone-Fewings (Philip the Bastard), Kelly Hunter (Constance), John Hopkins (The Dauphin), Trevor Cooper (Hubert), Geoffrey Freshwater (Philip of France), Alison Fiske (Eleanor), David Collings (Pandulph), Andrew Maud (Pembroke), Trevor Martin (Duke of Austria/Peter of Pomfret), Ben Darlington/Joshua McGuire (Arthur)

2006 Swan (Complete Works Festival): Josie Rourke

Peter McKintosh (design); Neil Austin (lighting); Jocelyn Pook (music); Chris Shutt (sound); Dominic Leclerc (movement)

Richard McCabe (King John), Joseph Millson (Philip the Bastard), Tamsin Greig (Constance), Rupert Evans (The Dauphin), Sam Cox (Hubert), Nicholas Day (Philip of France), Sorcha Cusack (Eleanor), David Fielder (Pandulph), Jonny Weir (Pembroke), Leon Tanner (Duke of Austria), Christopher Davies (Peter of Pomfret), Jamie Ballard (Melun), Steven Beard (Chatillon), Amy Brown (Isabella), Simon Bubb (Robert Faulconbridge), Adam Rayner (Essex), Patrick Robinson (Salisbury), John Heffernan (James Guerney), Shane Frater (Executioner), Ralph Davis/Jamie Thomas (Arthur), Charles Hamblett/James Parris (Prince Henry), Eliza Hunt (Lady Faulconbridge), Curtis Flower (English Herald), Geoffrey Lumb (French Herald)

For a gallery of over 70 production images from a selection of these productions (and some older ones in the pre-RSC Shakespeare Memorial Theatre), together with sample costumes, pages from promptbooks and other visual materials, go to

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