Runway Theatre takes the holiday season to the 12th century with “The Lion in Winter”

A 12th century take on family dysfunction around the holiday’s heads to Runway Theatre from December 1 through December 18.

Runway Theatre - The Lion in Winter
The poster for Runway Theatre’s “The Lion in Winter” – Courtesy of Runway Theatre

For such a cheery time of year, the holidays can come with a lot of stress. In-laws and far-flung family members fly in, giant, home-cooked meals take hours to prepare, and the holiday shopping leaves everyone exhausted. Even with all that work, however, it’s the kind of drama that pales compared to what’s in store during the holidays at Runway Theatre this year.

“The Lion in Winter” is the latest production for the Grapevine-based theater organization. The comedy follows the family of King Henry II as they prepare for a holiday full of the kind of stress and drama not seen during the Christmas season since the medieval times. To celebrate the holidays, the King has granted his wife a temporary release from prison to join him and his mistress, the bride-to-be of his eldest son, at a big family dinner with the rest of his sons, who are all vying to be next in line for the crown.

“It’s an iconic script. It’s been around since I’ve been in theater, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but just never had an opportunity to,” “The Lion in Winter” Director James Prince said.

Prince explained that he assembled his “dream cast” for his Runway Theatre production with lead actors Terry Martin as King Henry II and Mary-Margaret Pyett as the King’s wife, Eleanor, who both provide the kind of gravitas and power on stage he was looking for.

Runway Theatre - The Lion in Winter
“Actors Terry Martin and Mary-Margaret Pyeatt rehearse as Henry and Eleanor for Runway Theatre’s The Lion in Winter.” – Caption and phot by Amy Jackson on behalf of Runway Theatre

“It’s always been a dream role for me, and just to have the opportunity to get a chance to work on it was just too good to pass up,” Martin said of his royal role, describing how the original 1968 film adaptation of the play, starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, remains one of his favorite movies to this day.

Even with that inspiration, Martin explained that he doesn’t seek to replicate the performance of Peter O’Toole or even Patrick Stewart in the later 2003 adaptation of the work. Instead, he focused on his own interpretation of the script itself, along with the performances of those around him, to inspire his acting.

“I lean on what the words are on the paper, and then most importantly, I lean on the dynamics that come out of my relationship with the actors playing the other roles,” Martin said. “I find my inspiration for the moments and the blocking organically through what’s happening in the moment with the actors as we go through the rehearsal process.”

He added that Prince has given the cast the freedom to find the nuances of their characters onstage and respond to what their audiences and fellow actors give them.

“Every night you show up, the wave of what’s going to happen between the audience and the cast is different, and you just have to be prepared to ride the wave,” Martin said, describing how Prince has given the cast “a box” to work within and allows them to explore within those bounds how they see fit. “That’s where the excitement, in the majority, comes for me is to be able to just be there and be responsive (on stage).”

Martin called “The Lion in Winter” a “very modern” production that strives to strike a “fine balance that we have to walk between comedy and the truth of the heartfelt moments that are going on.”

“We truly were looking to give audiences something perhaps a little bit meatier, maybe a little more engaging,” Runway Theatre Director of Publicity Amy Jackson said of the theater’s decision to produce a show this time of year that’s different than the traditional Christmastime programming while still touching on some of the undertones that surround the holidays. “We are all about to see a lot of family, and that was a thing we talked about a lot in the play selection committee that this absolutely was set back in a different time and is of epic proportion, but it really still aligns with all of the challenges we’re about to experience with holiday disasters as well.”

Jackson, Martin and Prince all echoed a desire for “The Lion in Winter” to give audiences the kind of production and theatrical performance they will want to support by providing them with an entertaining evening at the theater.

“That’s the most important thing that we keep this artform alive and keep it going by providing an enjoyable evening and leaving the audience with a feeling that they’ve invested their evening in something enjoyable,” Martin said.

The Runway Theatre production of “The Lion in Winter” opens on December 1 and runs through December 18. For more information, including how to purchase tickets, visit

These interviews have been edited for clarity.


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