PHIL Leach moves across the quire of Worcester Cathedral and touches the tomb of England’s most despised king as if to seek royal approval for what is to follow.

Well, as far as I can see, the real monarch would have had nothing to complain about regarding this Chris Jaeger and Ben Humphrey production which paints a very balanced picture of the quite possibly misunderstood Angevin ruler.

Leach’s King John always appears to be the victim rather than the architect of events, possibly because the play’s creator William Shakespeare always trod with care when writing about kings and queens and with good reason. Ouch! It stings when you have your hand cut off.

And as for the royal guest at WorcesterLive’s magnificent piece of theatre, the first night of which actually fell on the 800th anniversary of his death, one gets the feeling that Jaeger and Humphrey will still have their heads attached to shoulders come the last night on Saturday.

But no and forsooth, it’s not John you have to watch. It’s the nobles, most of whom are so busy covering their mailed derrieres that they’ll do anything. War on the French, siding with the French… who cares a fiddler’s groat. Hey, let’s do it.

Most dastardly of all is The Bastard. Yes, that’s wordplay instead of swordplay, although Nick Wilkes seems adept at both. Very Shakespearian is Master Wilkes, as is the supremely mediaeval Jonathan Darby who endows booming King Philip of France with a distinct lack of the old entente cordiale.

Elsewhere, ice maiden Constance (Liz Grand) pins everyone back in their seats with a stupendous meltdown scene after learning that her son Arthur (played variously by Sam Witherall and Benjamin Sears) has just had a nasty accident on some castle battlements. Boo-hoo ad infinitum, steady on Liz old girl.

And not to be outdone is Marilyn Birks as John’s mother Queen Elinor. Talk about the crone behind the throne – she makes Maggie Thatcher look like Mother Theresa.

If only we could know what the right royal guest of honour thought about it all as he reclined in his tomb with a view… my guess is he’d call it his crowning glory after eight centuries of being unfairly slagged off.

John Phillpott