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Theatre review: Henry IV Part 2 
13th-Jul-2010 11:34 pm
Approaching the tail end of my theatrical marathon and we're onto the "Part 2"s. Henry IV Part 2 is also the Globe's final new Shakespeare production of the 2010 season, which seems a bit early in mid July, but although I still have 3 trips there planned this year, the two fresh productions are newly-commissioned plays, and the remaining Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, is a revival of a 2008 production, unrelated to these versions of the Henry plays. Which also means it won't feature Roger Allam's grubby Falstaff, which seems a shame. It would be unfair on Desmond Barrit and Michael Gambon, who I've previously seen tackle the role, to say that Allam is my favourite so far because I saw those two too long ago to properly compare¹ but the thought did cross my mind he might well be. This isn't just because Dominic Dromgoole's production plays down the much-discussed father-son relationship between him and Hal, although I have to say I like this approach. Allam's Falstaff has shown his true colours long before the news of Hal's ascension brings forth a telling speech in which he has no interest in what it means for Hal, and only cares about the perceived power he's already planning to abuse. In fact if either of them has true feelings for the other it's Jamie Parker's Hal, who after the "I know you not, old man" speech allows himself to be visibly upset as soon as everyone looks away.

Elsewhere William Gaunt is better as a funny, endearing Shallow than he was as Worcester in Part 1, and Barbara Marten is a funny Mistress Quickly, making a good double act with Doll Tearsheet (Jade Williams) who must have made a few people rue the day they said "£5 standing tickets? What could possibly go wrong?" when she turns up and promptly pukes on the groundlings. Having been an intriguing Hotspur, Sam Crane basically gets a memorable cameo here as Pistol, and again is excellent. Although the title role isn't a big one, I still felt Oliver Cotton could have done more with Henry IV; the scene of Hal snatching the crown is nicely done but overall Cotton didn't make me feel I got under the king's skin. The politics of the second play isn't as engaging as that of the first, a vague group of lords and bishops not being quite as dynamic as a Hotspur figure, but although the rebels on their own didn't interest me much, the scene where John of Lancaster (the rather cute Joseph Timms, who reminded me a lot of Christopher Gorham from off of millions of US TV shows) tricks the rebels without technically breaking his word, is very well told.

Overall I would say that although this isn't a groundbreaking production, it's a very solid one that brings to the fore the two plays' strengths. Both Henry IVs are very well served and well worth seeing.

Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare is in repertory until the 3rd of October at Shakespeare's Globe.

¹and they both predate this blog and writing my reviews, which seem to help me remember more details, or if not provide a reference point about what I thought at the time
(Deleted comment)
14th-Jul-2010 11:47 am (UTC)
Generally I prefer subtler performances but yeah it's entirely down to context.
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