HENRY IV, Parts I and II
by William Shakespeare.
Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET in rep to 13 August 2011.
Part I 2.30pm 31 July, 3, 7, 10, 11, 13 Aug.
7.30pm 28 July, 1, 4, 9 Aug.
Part II 2.30pm 6 Aug.
7.30pm 31 July, 3, 7, 10, 11, 13 Aug.
Runs 2hr 50min (Part I)/2hr 55min (Part II).
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 July.
All England on stage in revival with many strong points.
In close-up, there are two different plays here. Pull out a bit and there’s a single two-parter. In mid-distance the two Henry IVs join Henry V as an essay and entertainment on the formation of a king, Henry V, Shakespeare’s “star of England”. Add Richard II (from whom Henry IV took the crown) and there’s a study of guilt – Richard has none of the humour of the Henrys, though it gave Noel Coward the title for the play which shares Peter Hall’s Bath season this year.
Then, with Shakespeare’s earlier Henry VI trio plus Richard III, there’s an historical panorama of politics and human qualities – as the Royal Shakespeare Company has shatteringly shown over the last decade in its cycle of all eight plays.
Presumably, Peter Hall wants to focus on the picture of England in these two plays. His production gains greatly from David Yelland’s deeply-felt, clearly spoken and phrased Henry. The portrait’s humanity is a triumph. Henry is a father worrying about his son’s behaviour on a national scale. He’s the nagging, moralistic parent, with no wife to give him context (as other Shakespeare kings have), while his son Hal has tremendous fun with the false father-figure of Falstaff.
By Part II Henry’s almost written-out. He has only three scenes, none till nearly halfway through, and those full of long speeches of regret; in the final scene he is dying as life goes on around.
But Yelland’s Henry anchors the cares of state, while others have their fun. And his values largely win through – Hal chucks Falstaff aside and praises the Lord Chief Justice who had hounded him in his more risqué days. Paul Bentall give this character (and his Walter Blunt of Part I) due personal authority.
Simon Higlett’s design certainly encapsulates this as a play about England. Combined with 19th-century costume, Higlett walls in the London scenes. An aperture, opening shutter-like at the back allows Henry to be seen first formally placing the crown on his own head (as a usurper, he had in a sense done this from the start) and entering to take command of his court. His fortunes are charted by the confidence or uncertainty with which he enters or leaves through this space.
A single, full-height panel opens for scenes elsewhere, revealing parts of the England this court rules. Yet it’s only in the later, Gloucestershire scenes the rear wall fully disappears, opening a panorama on a different England.
These slow-paced rural scenes are filled with comic nostalgia and the contrast of life and death. It’s easy to ignore they’re also a picture of decrepit, corrupt, self-satisfied local justice, involving the old friends of Falstaff, who’s about to see his drinking-companion crowned king.
This is a thoughtful production. Though, despite Desmond Barritt’s Falstaff (some of the character’s corruption being mitigated by cuts) having a reflective element that makes, for example, the ‘honour’ speech of Part I seem logical in his mouth, it’s one that lacks energy in the tavern scenes, while the Gloucestershire Justices Falstaff visits are played with undue coarseness.
Yet the first part has some fine-detailed playing in scenes not often regarded. When Hotspur and his wife visit his cousin, married to the daughter of Welsh insurgent Owen Glendower, the comedy with which Hotspur undercuts the Welsh giant’s accustomed boasts is handled with tactful success.
Ben Mansfield’s Hotspur is, for once, not dismissive of his wife, while the contrast between the two married couples either side of the stage, one more musical than the other, and the subsequent meeting in the centre of the wives abandoned for battle is strong, its domesticity offsetting the play’s military scenes.
In general, this is a revival stronger on ideas than atmosphere, something that affects Tom Mison’s Hal. There’s no doubt he knows where he’s going, even if he enjoys playing along with the pub habituées early on. Yet there’s little chemistry with the tavern women, who’re seen at their most forceful when Lizzie McInnerny’s Mistress Quickly is fighting-off the Lord Chief Justice’s raid.
Whatever the limitations, there’s a lot of good, and this double-act doesn’t often come along, so its presence in Bath for the next two weeks is worth serious consideration.
King Henry IV: David Yelland.
Earl of Westmoreland/Peto/Snare/Bullcalf: Alex Blake.
Sir Walter Blunt/Lord Chief Justice: Paul Bentall.
Prince John of Lancaster/Francis/Fang: Dominic Thorburn.
Sir John Falstaff: Desmond Barrit.
Henry, Prince of Wales: Tom Mison.
Poins/Sir Michael/Rumour/Lord Mowbray/Humphrey of Gloucester: Edward Harrison.
Earl of Worcester/Shallow: Philip Voss.
Earl of Northumberland/Owen Glendower/Silence: Robert East.
Henry Percy/Pistol: Ben Mansfield.
Gadshill/Sir Richard Vernon/Travers/Lord Hastings/Feeble/Davy: Ross Waiton.
Bardolph/Archbishop of York: Michael Mears.
Lady Percy: Katie Lightfoot.
Hotspur’s Servant/Officer: William Reay.
Vintner/Edmund Mortimer/Lord Bardolph/Gower/Wart: Cornelius Booth.
Mistress Quickly/Lady Northumberland: Lizzie McInnerny.
Sheriff/Earl of Douglas/Morton/Earl of Warwick: Peter Bygott.
Carrier/Mouldy/Thomas of Clarence: Luke Courtier.
Lady Mortimer/Doll Tearsheet: Wendy Morgan.
Messenger/Falstaff’s Page: Danny Ashok.
Shadow: Mary Drake.
Director: Peter Hall.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Composer: Mick Sands.
Costume: Christopher Woods.
Fikght director: Kate Waters.
Associate directors: Richard Beecham, Cordelia Monsey.
Assistant designer: Ruth Hall.