Henry IV Part I

Tue 5th – Sat 9th May 2015

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 00:34 on 6th May 2015

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Henry IV Part I is a strange mixture of bawdy comedy and poignant comment on the nature of honour, as reflected in the ADC’s sumptuous period-dress production. Prince Hal, son of the usurper Henry IV, spends his time frolicking in London’s taverns with the aged knight Falstaff and an assortment of laddish companions. However, when Harry Percy, known as Hotspur, leads a rebellious army, threatening Henry’s rule, Hal must cast off his friends and adopt the roles of prince and warrior.

Marco Young, playing the young prince, conveyed with ease both the merriment of Hal’s youth and the seriousness of his royal duties. Hal’s change from reckless jollity to future king, however, is not mere accident. He has planned it all, so that his change of heart will achieve maximum impact in the eyes of his stern father. The choice of costume by designer Freddie Cooke helped to indicate Hal’s evolving persona, as he begins by wearing a blue jerkin with yellow shoulders, matching the yellow of Falstaff’s jacket, showing that he is devoted to jokes and pleasure. This changes as he enters the field of battle, wearing sombre black. Harry Percy, his rival and foil, also wears black, indicating that they have both accepted the call of honour.

Tom Beaven gave the role of Hotspur an aggression and an impetuousness which contrasted with Hal’s merriment and pragmatism. He had a habit of clenching both fists and holding his arms stiff by his sides, and had also perfected an arrogant swagger. While his loud, angry delivery successfully conveyed Percy’s identity as a fighter, he didn’t offer the same range of emotions as Young, perhaps due to the one-dimensional nature of Hotspur’s character.

During the confrontation between Hotspur and Hal, Tim Atkin’s Falstaff provided a wonderful counterpoint with his physical comedy. While being adept at slapstick humour, his comic timing and portrayal of Falstaff’s pompous vanity were also very enjoyable. Atkin brought both comedy and tragedy to his character, as he was moved nearly to tears in his discussion of the futility of honour, showing a vulnerability which added to Falstaff’s complexity.

Despite some moments of amusing clowning by the band of tavern-goers, the actors’ movement was at times a little awkward, seeming choreographed rather than natural. However, this may be due to the wordy nature of the play, and the difficulty of injecting movement into rather stationary dialogue scenes. Another slightly awkward aspect of this production is the Scottish accent adopted by David Ruttle in his portrayal of Douglas, a rebel leader. He masterfully conveyed the bloodlust of the battlefield, but in this fervour, his accent suffered as a result.

All in all, this production managed to tie in many disparate elements into a cohesive whole: the political machinations of Henry’s court, the formation of Percy’s rebellion and the japes of Falstaff and his followers. This was symbolised by a joyous jig at the close of the play, where the whole cast danced together onstage. While there were standout performances from Falstaff, all the cast worked well together as an ensemble to make this Shakespearean history come alive.

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Jack McNichol

at 00:42 on 6th May 2015

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Jamie Armitage’s Henry IV Part 1 is a solid and faithful rendering of Shakespeare’s text, with moments of true brilliance. However, the second installment in the great second history tetralogy comes across as having been a little unwieldy for this particular production.

The first thing I have to applaud is the beautiful set, designed by Lydia Clark. A wonderful Globe-like construction, the clean wooden lines brought an authentic Early Modern playhouse feel to the ADC. Apart from the wonderful base set design, the production as a whole was stripped back to basics, a few props, a table and a few chairs for the actors to play with. This was clearly a decision on the part of Armitage to stage the play as it would have been seen in Shakespeare’s day, and allowed the language to take centre stage. However, it often left the show rather lacking in visual interest. For the less pious, Shakespeare-devout audience member, a few men standing around onstage shouting at each other in pentameter can fall a little flat. And scenes could sometimes fall into a shouty monotone, especially the manly exchanges among the war-bent aristocrats.

Standing out brilliantly from the crowd were Bea Svistunenko as Lady Percy, and Emma Blacklay-Piech as Worcester. Svistunenko confidently and masterfully occupied her character, introducing incredible emotional range into what was a relatively brief exchange with her husband, Hostpur (Tom Beaven). And Blacklay-Piech, as the most gently spoken of the conspiring lords, was convincingly cunning, her quiet confidence playing off wonderfully against the same man’s raging tantrums.

Always hard to master, accents caused a few problems in this play, occasionally detracting from the seriousness and intensity of a scene. However Zak Ghazi-Torbati, as Glendower, the Welshman confident of his magical powers with whom Hotspur conspires, played with his to wonderful comic effect. His pronouncements – ‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep’ – accompanied by a wave of his staff, were played up to the great mirth of the audience (and, one could just about see, a few cast members too). On the subject of comedy, Kyle Turakhia has to get a mention for his portrayal of Francis, whose bumblings and exclamations of, ‘Anon, anon!’ were both hilarious and endearing.

The true highlight of the play was Tim Atkin’s Falstaff, the face on all of the posters. Not personally a huge fan of the character, I was won over not by his comedic scenes in the first act, although they were perfectly proficient, but by his speeches on honour in the second. Atkin brought a sincere pathos to these moments, in which Falstaff really became human to me for the first time. There seemed something terribly contemporary, dare I say universal, about his casual gesture, towards the close of play, to dead body of Hotspur, accompanied the remark: ‘There’s honour for you’.

In true Falstaffian style, this scene was quickly turned into comedy, the body ransacked and dragged offstage; a victory for those who don’t take themselves too seriously. And this was just how the play ended, with a marvellous jig which, although taking a little time to find its feet, provided a perfect comic ending of which Falstaff would surely approve.

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