REVIEW: The King Is Dead at New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

David Starkey

David Starkey

Building work on the new theatre

The Kings opens up its wartime secrets

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Renowned yet controversial historian David Starkey was in his element for his latest talk, The King Is Dead: Royal Death And Succession Under The Tudors.

Sat centre-stage, Starkey commanded full attention as he expertly steered the audience through the drama and politics that surrounded the death of a Tudor royal.

The deaths of Henry VIII and Edward VI and the complex struggles for succession were brought to life with all the narrative excitement that can be found in Wolf Hall or Game of Thrones. However, as Starkey is very keen to remind us, the drama is all the more exciting because it is ‘real life’.

With his fingertips lightly touched together, it’s clear that Starkey’s not only comfortable, but enjoying himself. Historical facts, supported by David’s impressive penchant for recalling dates, are interspersed with regular jokes that were well received by the audience.

The acerbic tongue which infamously earned him the sobriquet ‘rudest man in Britain’ was largely kept in check, but that did not stop such statements as ‘historians have been so dumb’ and an uncouth (albeit funny) analogy of Peter Mandelson as ‘Groom of the Stool’.

At one point, David states that he wants to stay away from contemporary issues, yet this is quickly forgotten when he proclaims that ‘Parliament is now no more than a Parish-Council under the EU’.

The following Q&A showed that the audience wanted more of this, with most questions revolving around topical issues (are there any similarities between Donald Trump and Henry VIII?).

This highlights the attraction to the Tudors: larger-than-life characters and spectacle will always have universal appeal.

Bowing graciously to applause at the talk’s conclusion, one thing is clear. The Tudor Kings may be long dead and buried, but the king of constitutional history is very much alive and kicking.

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