Sunday, 18 May 2014

Henry IV Part 1

Henry IV, Part 1 (not Shakespeare's title, or, possibly, even his intention) was conveniently screened at Winchester Everyman just days before older inmates were due to go under the examiner's lash on it. And as with RII, Doran delivered a beautifully clear and well-paced account. Attention drawn by Alex Hassall, who gave us a likeable warm-hearted Hal (though as a result the strategic coldness of  'But herein will I imitate the sun' was lost; and my all-time-favourite Shakespeare line 'I do, I will' didn't have the heart-stopping impact I expect, nay demand, dammit). Jasper Britton was a pinched and bitter Henry, a boxer who's played dirty but comes out of the corner fighting.

The big decisions were to make Hotspur a kind of Midlands psycho - I think there's more humour in the Glendower scene than we got here - and of course star name Anthony Sher as Falstaff. Now here was something different. It's been good to see two parts normally given to bass-baritones - Lear and Falstaff - played by different voices recently (Simon Russell Beale and Sher). Sher gave us a wheedling decayed knight, who loves playing to the tavern; his grin during the exchanges with Hal was lovely, and we got real affection from the various insults directed at Hal for not being fat. I liked the way he didn't hurry the speeches but felt for the balance of each sentence. He got a well-earned laugh just for the way he called out some names: 'Poooiins ..' As for staging, same set-up as for RII, only without any ex machina gallery. Good use of the enormous depth of this set-up. Watching these plays in a modern production makes one realize how they were written for smaller companies. Seeing, for example, the lovely Jennifer Kirby in her one scene - the domestic with Hotspur - and as a crowd member in the tavern and that's it is a bit odd, like a football player being brought off the bench for five minutes then called back in. In the whole of Richard II, Jane Lapotaire has one scene, and can read a book for the rest of the evening. What's that like? Nice work if you can get it, or frustrating? Shakespeare's company would have done much more role-sharing, and that idea is in various ways woven into the plays themselves.

Digressions. A production that relaxed into and relished the multifarious language of the play that has everything, including first tremors of the tragedy to come. Good attention paid to individuating the secondary characters, Worcester and Northumberland nicely distinct. The complex narrative of the conspiracy has never been clearer to me, and with one stroke of business the parallels between court and rebels were brilliantly brought out. Loved the bed gag, but must wait a decent time before stealing it.

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