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WILL AND ME: RSC'S Henry IV, Part 1 (2014) Review

Updated on January 5, 2018
A poster advertising both parts of Henry IV and their follow up production of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Pictured is Sir Antony Sher, who plays Sir John Falstaff, one of the bard's greatest comedic creations.
A poster advertising both parts of Henry IV and their follow up production of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Pictured is Sir Antony Sher, who plays Sir John Falstaff, one of the bard's greatest comedic creations. | Source

RSC’S HENRY IV, PART 1 (2014) REVIEW

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

CREATIVE TEAM:

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

***

It is time to brush off the romantic verses of Romeo and Juliet as we strap on our armour and go on an epic ride of family feud, civil conflict and honour, as we enter the world of Shakespeare’s ever popular War of the Roses series. And there is no greater instalment to look at than the character driven Henry the Fourth plays.

Told in two parts (sort of setting the ground work of many movie blockbusters and franchises when you think about it), Henry IV is the sequel to 1595’s The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, telling the story of Henry Bolingbroke (now crowned King Henry the Fourth after stealing the crowd of King Richard) as he struggles with the threats of war from rebels in Scotland and Wales, and his frequent disappointment with his irresponsible and rebellious son, Prince Hal, who spends a lot less time on royal duties and more on playing pranks and getting drunk at the local tavern with his drinking buddy, Sir John Falstaff—a morbidly obese and lazy knight who always has a new get rich quick scheme to share. What follows is a complex story about father and son, the pointlessness of war, the twist and turns of friendship, and the unanswered question of honour and bravery. In Part One, we see King Henry begin his reign, follow their adventures of Prince Hal and his fellow alcoholics, and eventually ride off into battle in Shropshire.

The first half of Henry IV has recently been staged by the ever busy Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), which was filmed live at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon (a beautiful looking theatre that appropriately resembles a high tech, modern and under-cover version of the Globe Theatre). A live filming that was broadcast here in Australia on the 7th of June, and thankfully, which I managed to catch during a calm Saturday afternoon. (I rarely get to see Shakespeare on stage, so this was a no miss opportunity!)

From the moment the incidental music started (beautifully composed by Paul Englishby), the production was almost flawless! It was an amazing theatre event that one might never experience again!

With Gregory Doran calling the shots as the company’s new Artistic Director, the production does not disappoint when it comes to comedic value and suspense, just as the play was intended to be performed when it was written all those years ago. The set design is imaginative (especially design for the Boar’s Head Tavern), the lightening is cinematic, the camera work for the recording of the performance was epically handled, the direction is flawless, Terry King’s fight scenes are brilliantly done, and of course, the acting is what you would expect from members of the Royal Shakespeare Company: First rate! Alex Hassell was badass as Prince Hal, Sir Antony Sher (the director’s domestic partner) was a comedic genius as “kind….true….valiant….old….plump” John Falstaff, Jasper Britton gave it his all in the ironically smallish role of Henry the Fourth, Sean Chapman was suspenseful as “The Scot”, and a great many of the ensemble for the tavern, battle and royal court scenes were so full of character, despite only being either supporting roles or background characters.

My only negative criticisms about the production are:

1—Trevor White as Percy Hotspur (a prince who King Henry wishes was his son as opposed to Hal) was a BAD CHOICE from the get go. He is over the top (even for theatre), shouting 98 per cent of his lines, and does not represent the ideal son King Henry would want. (To be honest, Hotspur in this version makes Prince Hal look like a saint when you see how mentally f***ed up he is portrayed!)

2—The idea of showing the audience entering the theatre during the transmission (which is something I blame RSC for). During the screening I attended, they thought it necessary to show the audience entering the auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre….entering the auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre! It took at least 15 to 20 minutes for the actual show to begin, so during that half of the screening, me and my fellow audience members were forced to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company repeat—three times—their PowerPoint Presentation style ads about how we can download an interactive copy of the production’s original programme onto our iPads, how we should become a sponsor of RSC in just a few minutes, or how we shouldn’t miss some further live recordings of plays by other Elizabethan playwrights that no one ever really gave a s**t about in the first place! If they showed these ads once, I wouldn’t have minded. But as they showed three times to buy them some time till the audience across the pond in England were fully seated, I am really bloody annoyed! And I’m not the only one: When the ads appeared for repeat number three, the entire cinema started a chant of “For crying out loud” and “For Christ sake”; and I’m pretty sure I heard someone shout out: “OH FOR F**K SAKE!!!” Seriously, National Theatre Live and The Metropolitan Opera edits out the audiences arriving section in their broadcasts, so why couldn’t the respectable Royal Shakespeare Company do that as well? (And I thought Falstaff was the lazy one!)

Apart from those nits picks (or in the case of the latter, my official complaint to the staff of the RSC), Doran’s interpretation of Henry IV, Part 1 is an epic “history” play that deserves multiple Olivier Awards and a world tour. (Please?!)

Please join me again in late July (or early August) when I review Part Two. (I saw the trailer for it, and it looks amazing! So amazing that if the makers of Game of Thrones saw this, they’d be on their knees chanting: “We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy.”)

Sir Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff, pretending to be Prince Hal's father during the funny yet sad play-within-a-play scene.
Sir Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff, pretending to be Prince Hal's father during the funny yet sad play-within-a-play scene. | Source

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