STAGE REVIEW: King John - at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until March 21, 2020.

WHAT next then in this ever increasing inclusive era with gender-fluidity once again taking centre stage?

It was then, perhaps, only to be expected the RSC would have the main role of King John played by a woman! And that wasn’t the only cross-gender casting of the night. But why?

Is it to prove a point or just because the opportunity is there to test the boundaries that can be crossed?

If there is a particular theatrical form with certain boxes to be ticked the Royal Shakespeare Company must have surely obliged by now and filled all the relevant ones with a variety of role swapping in its productions to oblige even the most sincere diehards of the LGBTQ community.

Be it colour or gay, even both, or maybe other, the RSC has consistently delivered in this direction.

So here we have King John, or rather Jean, played by Rosie Sheey in what is her debut season with the company.

And what ever are your personal thoughts on this drip-feed of swaps, she provides a top notch performance. The change really does work and the same can be said of Katherine Pearce’s portrayal of Cardinal Pandulph - played as a no nonsense Papal envoy with a touch of quirky humour.

An absolute delight with her northern accent as she patrols around in her purple frock. She knows what she wants and even orders a lady on the front row to hold her cape! For which she duly received a cursory ‘Bless you’.

Rarely performed but a richly dark Shakespearean tragedy, it is full of mistrust, misdeeds, plotting and conspiracy.

Director Eleanor Rhodes attempts to lighten the mood as she catapults the action across the centuries and we have the English army - dressed in 1960s outfits, arriving in France to rock music.

There’s the Twist, disco-dancing and several entertaining asides during the evening, but just in case we forget Rhodes brings us back to the grimness of John’s struggles at home and overseas.

Even the wedding breakfast scene fractures into chaos and mayhem and after the fight the words ‘Just married’ on golden balloons are left punctured to read ‘Just die’.

Elsewhere young Ethan Phillips shone as John’s nephew, Arthur, the child Duke of Brittany; Brigitta Roy’s Queen Elinor, John’s mother; and particularly Michael Abubakar, who definitely strutted his stuff as Lady Faulconbridge’s illegitimate son by Richard the Lionheart, Philip.

Not fully the traditional fare either anticipated or expected, but totally without doubt thought-provoking and above all enthralling entertainment.