Friday, May 16, 2014

'Henry IV Part 2' by William Shakespeare

16 May 2014

On Thursday we were back at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Greg Doran's RSC production of 'Henry IV Part 2'. Seeing the play in sequence after 'Richard II' (reviewed here in December 2013) and 'Henry IV Part 1' (reviewed here in April 2014), the historical backdrop was much clearer. But I was struck by the fact that 'Part 2' is a play without much plot and which is not remembered for its poetry. What it does, perhaps better than any other Shakespeare play, is to provide a deep and searching exploration of character. While 'Part 1' is Hal's play, in 'Part 2' Falstaff dominates, with a series of opportunities, alone on stage, to address the audience directly. Anthony Sher's Falstaff was wicked and mischievous, funny and despicable, with an earnestly precise diction suggesting his frustration at having to address a bunch of idiots. Sher is a brilliant physical actor and Falstaff became a hobbling, unsteady presence, constantly shifting from one leg to the other, as if trying to balance himself on the rolling deck of a ship. Falstaff can sometimes be a very unfunny clown, but the scenes where he was reunited with Justice Shallow (the ever-wonderful Oliver Ford Davies) were hilarious (with an unnervingly odd performance from Jim Hooper as Silence adding to the effect). I must also mention the amazing physical performance by Leigh Quinn as Wart (one of the members of Falstaff's Scarecrow Army), bent into the most remarkable shape but still managing to move around the stage. This RSC production used a sparing stage set but created a series of realistic worlds through incredibly imaginative lighting and sound design (by Tim Mitchell and Martin Slavin, respectively). It was a very impressive production and the climax, where the newly crowned Henry V publicly rejects Falstaff was a stunning moment.

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