The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Second Time Around

To redress my big whinge from last month, a quick review of The Globe’s new production of Henry IV. Saw Part 1 last month, saw one of the first nights of Henry IV Part 2 earlier this week.

In terms of what’s on paper, Part 1 should be the better play. It ends with a battle, for a start, and has a more interesting character journey for Hal. But in performance, Part 2 is much better. Much less actually happens, and the battles are anticlimactically resolved by political subterfuge (which could either be Shakespeare’s masterful use of dramatic anticlimax as a device, or is simply a case of him sticking to the historical facts). There are whole scenes which are just there for Falstaff to be funny; Falstaff vs Mistress Quickly, Falstaff vs Doll Tearsheet, Falstaff vs local magistrates and, in some brilliantly funny scenes, Falstaff vs Justice Shallow and Falstaff recruiting soldiers (in a scene which I’d previously thought was in Part 1, it could almost be a ‘deleted scene’ from the first play).

If I had to quibble, I’d say the addition of some ‘story so far’ rustic business at the beginning was superfluous, but on the other hand it meant they put a second stage in the middle of the ground area for me to lean on, so I’m glad it was there. It’s the best place to stand, get there if you can. And maybe it was because it was an early night, or because it was following up a production of Part One, but the audience were, for once, respectful and enthusiastic. Everyone there was there to see and enjoy the play, rather than the usual bunch of non-English-speaking tourists and people who don’t know how to behave in the theatre, they think it’s like telly where you can talk during the dull bits.

So it was a magical evening, an incredibly good production of a play which has risen even higher in my estimation. It seems a shame to overlook all the great performances, but William Gaunt stole every scene he was in, which is no mean feat given he was up against Roger Allam as Falstaff, in an assured and precisely-judged performance that some critics are already describing as the best Falstaff for twenty years (which may well be true, or may just be critics’ way of saying ‘I’ve been to lots more productions of Henry IV than you.’)

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