HENRY IV, Parts I & II
by William Shakespeare.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS In rep to 24 January 2015.
Part I 1.30pm 18, 20, 27, 30 Dec, 3, 10, 1 17, 22, 24 Jan.
7.15pm 22, 29 Dec, 2, 5, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23 Jan.
Audio-described 2 Jan (+Touch Tour 5.15pm-5.45pm)
Captioned 21 Jan.
Post-show Talk 14 Jan.
Runs 3hr 5min One interval.
Part II 1.30pm 8 Jan.
7.15pm 18-20, 27, 30 Dec, 3, 6-8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22, 24 Jan.
Audio-described 3 Jan (+Touch Tour 5.15pm-5.45pm).
Captioned 22 Jan.
Post-show Talk 20 Jan.
Runs 3hr 10min One interval.
no performance 23-26, 31 Dec, 1 Jan.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7511.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 December.
Production succeeds because the play’s the thing.
This Henry IV is distinguished by its detailed reality in characters at all social levels, and their responses to the situations facing them. Whether it be the inn servant Francis trying to serve two masters at once, or the royal court dealing with equally intractable problems, each argument and anxiety is made clear. Nothing is hurried, nothing generalised.
The star of the show, of course, is Falstaff, both as character and in the casting of Antony Sher. But Sher uses his brilliance to make ordinary-seeming moments bright and precise in illuminating Sir John. Separated from his fellow-robbers at Gadshill, he emerges from the trees, hand to one side of his mouth, calling in a half-whisper for the assurance of his fellow thieves. The vowel sounds in “Poins” are elongated in a questioning tone mixing hope and fear, showing the coward who co-habits with the trickster.
And when Hal reveals how Poins and he frightened Falstaff into revealing his cowardice, there’s no blustering cheer in the knight’s pretence he knew who his attackers were. “I knew ye,” Sher’s Falstaff says with the calm plausibility of an habitual liar just telling another lie.
It’s a feature even of those fine and surprising scenes when, in the second part of Part II, the setting which has moved on an axis of London courts – the King’s, and Falstaff’s at the Board’s Head – and their outlying battlegrounds of battlefields and robbery sites – suddenly focuses on another England, the timeless, yet time-serving Gloucestershire of markets, apple-orchards and time-expired officials.
In name and dialogue, Justices Shallow and Silence call for comic-book exaggeration. Oliver Ford-Davies and Jim Hooper provide this, but also a sense of purposelessness that will be swept-up in events. The Justices comment on the poor quality of the soldiers Falstaff recruits for the king’s army, yet do nothing about it, while the moment of apparent triumph in London as Falstaff’s pal Hal is crowned king dissipates in Ford Davies’ calm, yet firm demand for the money Shallow is owed.
There’s little pomp about this final scene; no glittering parade as the coronation procession moves through London’s streets. And the overall tone of reality ensures Alex Hassell’s Prince Hal is not the star of England Shakespeare will proclaim him in retrospect as Henry V, but a young person kicking his heels while waiting purposefully for his time. It’s as natural he takes the crown from his sick father’s bed – he must wonder what this hollow glory that surrounds an uneasy head will mean for him – as that he asks, simply enough, wanting the truth rather than make an issue of it, whether his friend Poins really plans to marry his sister to Hal.
Hassell’s easy authority combines being one of the boys with the assurance of authority. Unlike his father; his is the crown-wearing head that lies uneasy. Jasper Britton convincingly makes Henry’s anxieties as king part of life at the top, in a court where people talk as they might in a modern boardroom crisis; every speech carries the fears, concerns or anger behind the words spoken. It stretches to the glory boys, Glendower and Hotspur; you notice it’s honour-loving Hotspur who undercuts self-glorifying Glendower.
But the rich clarity of these plays, the unity underlying the teeming diversity of their surface, only becomes apparent with clear-sighted direction. The production is the triumph of director Gregory Doran; a triumph essentially because there’s no making of obvious directorial points. Doran presents the whole action as the triumph of Shakespeare’s dramatic mind, synthesising history and society, presenting them in their Shakespearean complexity.
Loyalists and rebels alike are vivid in their plans. Elliot Barnes-Worrell’s Prince John tricks the rebels as a matter of duty; the new Henry V keeps the Lord Chief Justice who’d chastised his errant youth in office as good policy. Both are part of the shaping of society by its leaders, yet neither appears bland.
Nor does Falstaff, though Sher, helped by the surrounding workaday set from Stephen Brimson Lewis, seems physically diminished as he finally stands, deserted by his inner spirit as by his fair-weather friends – a final example of a production that holds a mirror up to nature and society.
Henry IV: Jasper Britton.
Prince Hal: Alex Hassell.
Prince John/Francis: Elliot Barnes-Worrell.
Earl of Westmoreland/Ostler: Youssef Kerkour.
Sir Walter Blunt/Lord Chief Justice: Simon Thorp.
Earl of Northumberland/Earl of Douglas: Sean Chapman.
Earl of Worcester/Pistol: Antony Byrne.
Hotspur/Mowbray: Trevor White.
Lady Percy: Jennifer Kirby.
Lord Edmund Mortimer/Carrier/Coleville: Robert Gilbert.
Lady Mortimer/Doll Tearsheet: Nia Gwynne.
Owen Glendower/Bardolph: Joshua Richards.
Sir Richard Vernon/Silence: Jim Hooper.
Archbishop of York/Sherriff/Scroop: Keith Osborn.
Sir Michael/Carrier/Hastings: Nicholas Gerard-Martin.
Sir John Falstaff: Antony Sher.
Ned Poins: Sam Marks.
Mistress Quickly: Paola Dionisotti.
Peto: Martin Bassindale.
Rakehill/Warwick: Jonny Glynn.
Vintner/Chamberlain/Lord Bardolph: Simon Yadoo.
Traveller/Wart: Leigh Quinn.
Shallow: Oliver Ford Davies.
Director: Gregory Doran.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Music: Paul Englishby.
Music Director: Gareth Ellis.
Sound: Martin Slavin.
Movement: Michael Ashcroft .
Text/Voice work: Emma Woodvine.
Fights: Terry King.
Assistant director: Owen Horsley.