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WILL AND ME: RSC's Henry IV, Part 2 (2014) Review

Updated on July 22, 2014
The RSC's original poster advertising the production.
The RSC's original poster advertising the production. | Source


CAST: Elliot Barnes-Worrell, Martin Bassindale, Jasper Britton, Antony Byrne, Sean Chapman, Oliver Ford Davies, Paola Dionisotti, Nicholas Gerard-Martin, Robert Gilbert, Jonny Glynn, Nia Gwynne, Alex Hassell, Jim Hopper, Youssef Kerkour, Jennifer Kirby, Sam Marks, Keith Osborn, Leigh Quinn, Joshua Richards, Sir Antony Sher, Simon Thorp, Trevor White, Simon Yadoo.


Director—Gregory Doran

Writer—William Shakespeare

Designer—Stephen Brimson Lewis

Lighting—Tim Mitchell

Music—Paul Englishby

Sound—Martin Slavin

Movement—Mike Ashcroft

Fight scenes—Terry King

(Cast and crew list courtesy of Nova Cinema, Melbourne)


Here we are again! Part two of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, performed live from the bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, with accomplished Gregory Doran as director, and the great Sir Antony Sher as the scene stealing Sir John Falstaff….and of course, accompanied by a BRILLIANT ensemble cast of memorable characters. (Whilst Hamlet may make you think about morality and immortality, Romeo and Juliet may inspire your inner romantic, and Macbeth may make you question your own sanity, this play is just here to hive a bloody good time!)

In The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, King Henry (Jasper Britton), Prince Hal (Alex Hassell) and Falstaff (Sher) return from the battle involving the now deceased Hotspur and the defeated rebels plotting against the crown. Once back from a day of bloodshed, the trio go their separate ways and experience their own post-war journey of petty crime, the entering of old age, and the epiphany of responsibility for an entire country. And for all three of them (as well as the people associated with them) experience an unhappy outcome, eventually setting the stage for Henry V….a play that doesn’t seem to be a part of The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 line-up. (Which is a real shame since they did Richard II at the end of last year (I think), continued the story with Henry IV this year, I don’t see what’s stopping them from ending the year with the final instalment of the Henraid series (which is the popular umbrella title given to the plays dealing with the reigns of Richard the Second, Henry the Fourth and Henry the Fifth). They got a great and epic series going on here. Why end it abruptly?)

This will be a fairly short review for I do not have a lot to say about this production. Like with the first part of the story, the direction is great, the cast is great (especially that new characters are introduced), the music is great, the overall look of the production is great….even though the tone is bleaker and simpler compared with the lighthearted and action packed first instalment, a lot of the things that made the first play brilliant is still present throughout the second play, making this often disappointing play (the fact Prince Hal and Falstaff are separated throughout the story, and that Hal eventually rejects his old friend is a real idiotic move on Shakespeare’s part) a very enjoyable experience….and if I dare say, subtly better than first one. (I’m not sure how, but Sher, Britton, Hassle and all the rest who are returning from the first play to appear in the second play seem to get better with their performing abilities and their understanding of their characters, even though they’re being the same people that they played a month ago.)

My only criticism of this production is the very first scene: The Prologue….

Part two begins with a recap of the events of part one, told through a chorus like character referred to as “The Rumour”. In Doran’s interpretation of the play, The Rumour is portrayed as a 21st century Average-Joe who fills us in about the story via social media networks like Instagram or Twitter. I am pretty much frowning like never before after seeing that! I really do admire Gregory Doran’s work in the field of Shakespeare (since starting these reviews, Doran has become my second favourite Shakespearean director….with Kenneth Branagh being my first!), but what the f**k was he thinking when he came up with the idea of beginning the story with a social networking geek? I mean, it is a creative and amusing idea and all, but compared with the rest of the production, where does it fit in? It is completely out of place and just looks downright ridiculous! (And I don’t mean it as a comical compliment!) If this was an interpretation of Henry IV set in modern day Britain (e.g.—the relationship of Hal and his father being a William and Charles type situation; the Battle of Shrewsbury being portrayed as a War on Terrorism type scenario; etc), then Doran would be on to something there. But alas, as he’s setting the play during its original time period, I’m afraid that I have no choice but to give The Rumour a thumbs down!

(But on the plus side, at least RSC did the smart thing of reducing how long their ads went for. Now that’s a BIG improvement compared to the screening of the first instalment last month where their series of promotions went on for too long, and that it didn’t occur to RSC to edit out the bit where we see the entire audience enter the theatre, in real time! Job well done! Nice to know that they listened to the complaints!)

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Henry IV, Part 2—I sure hope that its international tour includes Australia, for I want to see it again! It’s awesome production, and it inspires the question: “Why isn’t this a big screen trilogy yet?!”

Prince Hal and the dying king.
Prince Hal and the dying king. | Source


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