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Review: Hotspur/Falstaff/Harry of England, at Shakespeare’s Globe

Fast-moving plays that have a Shakespearean strand of comedy running through them, have a very contemporary feel

23 May, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

Michelle Terry in Henry IV Part 1. Photo: Tristram Kenton

THESE three plays, better known as Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V, can be seen singly or on some dates all on the same day (with a 15 per cent discount).

Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi direct colour and gender-blind productions that recount history with clarity but put the emphasis on the comedy Shakespeare threads through them.

The theatre is decked out with flags representing factions that generate a World Cup atmosphere at the same time as reflecting the unrest of the nation. There is something very contemporary about this kingdom divided, and the political thinking that sees foreign wars as a way of uniting it.

Michelle Terry’s wildly gesticulating Hotspur, full of energy and attention-demanding ego, dominates the first play.

Sarah Amankwah’s Prince Hal, in a boyish beanie cap, seems subdued by comparison: from when we first see him, plotting an escapade to catch out his fat friend, the roistering Falstaff, there is a sober edge that suggests this Henry has a clear plan for his own future. She captures his seriousness when he talks of the crown in the second play and the cold-bloodied, sadistic streak when he is king in the third play.

Helen Schlesinger is an unusual Falstaff. Fat, but not grotesquely overweight, and nimble-footed, she captures his vanity continually fluffing his long hair back. His fake bravura seems to mask a self-known inner weakness. This Sir John Falstaff isn’t very funny. Hobnobbing with the groundlings like a politician soliciting support, he cadges drinks from them but this isn’t the comic creation Elizabeth I asked for another play about.

The Globe seems to be kinder to male voices. Though intelligently spoken, the higher voices of this gender-balanced cast don’t always deliver text clearly. It often feels they are shouting rather than projecting.

The men playing women have a much easier time with a delightfully warm Mistress Quickly from Jonathan Broadbent and a charming French Princess Katherine from Colin Hurley, both touching and funny. And there’s a hilarious Doll Tearsheet from Philip Arditti who wipes off her tart’s make-up to resume playing his sober, guilt-laden Henry IV in a piece of theatre magic that is entirely in tune with Shakespeare’s chorus encouragement to use imagination.

These are fast-moving plays in which just 11 actors (even fewer than Shakespeare’s own company) play several dozen roles. It’s an ensemble that delivers a whole package with many fine moments.

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