Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Globe Theatre, London, July 2010Posted on 16 July 2010
With an audience on three sides of the stage, plus the casual openness of the standing area, Roger Allam was well placed to give us a wonderful interpretation of Falstaff. His contact with the audience was inspired, and they loved him, yet there was nothing over the top in his shrewd levity, ever ready to recover from the jibes and rejections of others.
Apart from Falstaff, these plays have no central character given to introspective soliloquies, so it is more the case of one actor playing off another, and many of the cast did this well, performing more than one role. William Gaunt and Christopher Godwin were amusing as the old duo Shallow and Silence in Part 2, while having been far more direct and vigorous as Worcester and Northumberland, and I liked Paul Rider both as Bardolph, and in his vignette as the Archbishop of York. Jade Williams as Doll Tearsheet in Part 2 showed an engaging weakness for Falstaff, throwing up most convincingly on the front corner of the stage and surprising the audience packed around there, a far cry from her refined Lady Mortimer. Barbara Marten played Lady Northumberland, as well as being a suitably indignant tavern hostess as Mistress Quickly, with her husband sitting upstairs smoking a pipe — a nice touch.
Oliver Cotton played the King as a serious monarch, betrayed by the rebellious vanities of others, but the principal rebel, Harry Hotspur showed a spluttering anger that failed to allow even a half-second pause in the expression of his fury. Sam Crane’s portrayal of this hothead could have used more nuance, and his re-appearance as Pistol in Part 2 had a clownish quality that seemed unsuited to this production. But Jamie Parker as Prince Hal showed nuance aplenty in his fine portrayal of youthful high spirits edged by an understanding of his future as king. Here is an actor — one of the original cast for The History Boys — who can be suitably immature as Prince Hal, yet bring into Part 2 elements of the future Henry V who will inspire and lead his army at the Battle of Agincourt. I look forward to his future portrayal of that role!
What makes Part 1 work so well is the brilliance of Falstaff and Prince Hal. Of course Hal is not seen much in Part 2, until he takes the crown from his father’s pillow near the end, so there isn’t quite the same energy in the second part, but Roger Allam was gloriously endearing as Falstaff — one could not imagine a better portrayal. These productions by Dominic Dromgoole give a fine understanding of the plays and are a delight to watch. I loved the convincing grubbiness of the costumes for the ordinary folk, as well as of the military vests for the nobles, and the crests hanging round the seating areas add to the authenticity. With the mummers at the beginning, starting outside the auditorium and taking their mime inside, a wonderful sense of occasion is given to these performances, and at £5 for a standing ticket in the pit there is no excuse for missing them. Six hours of Shakespeare with nary a dull moment.
Parts 1 and 2 of Henry IV continue until October 2nd and October 3rd respectively — for more details click here.