Donmar Warehouse at King’s Cross Theatre

Tuesday 29/11/16

Cast Includes Harriet Walter as Henry IV, Clare Dunne as Hal and Sophie Stanton as Falstaff

Running Time: 2 hour 10 mins

Change is at the heart of this production of Henry IV, as is evident from its opening moments. As a theme of the play, this could be noted for the whole show.

For a start, and potentially most obviously, this is not a show that is going to stick slavishly to the original text. As a piece, Henry tend to run as two shows, Parts 1 and 2, and each part runs for a longer time than this entire show. As such, we have a tauter, tighter experience and sometimes it feels like we miss parts that may have been in evidence in the original text. We also get cheeky, postmodern nods to pop culture such as Pulp’s Common People.

Another major addition is the prison setting that bookmarks the show – we are led to believe that the cast are playing prisoners who are performing the piece. Fortunately this tend to not intrude on the piece, except in occasional moment that highlight or mirror key moments. This is especially evident towards the end of the play, when Prince Hal’s change into Henry V is reflected in the fact Hal’s prison character is leaving the jail. I felt this was of much more importance than in The Tempest where it was less in evidence.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed watching this trilogy is the variety of the actors and their versatility they bring. Of particular note to this production was Sophie Stanton as Falstaff. I would argue that many productions can stand or fall on the portrayal of the comic role and she does not disappoint. In many scenes the audience clearly love her, and she provides much needed levity to a dark and serious play.

Curiously for this production, I felt that Harriet Walter’s Henry had very little to do – she had a major speech at the top of the show, and then it felt as if she disappeared for much of the first hour. I feel that this may be as much to do with the condensed nature of the production, and the huge amount of exposition that had to be got across.

I really loved the energy of these productions – so much goes on and there is such variety, with a physical approach to the text that is not evident by many Shakespearean plays. There is song, music, dance, DJs and much more, and this is done in a way that in enhances the text, in a way that I suspect would be done by Shakespeare himself if he were writing today.

 

Summary: Henry IV with a modern, tight script performed with vivacity and energy by a non-traditional, talented cast. ****

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