Royal Shakespeare Company Performs Both Parts of “Henry IV”
Very few go to see Shakespeare’s 2-part “Henry IV” for the political plot. Rather they go to see Sir John Falstaff. My favorite video version, albeit abridged, is that included in the 1960s “An Age of Kings” with Robert Hardy as Prince Hal and Frank Pettingell as Falstaff. The BBC Shakespeare series has Anthony Quale as Falstaff, while the new “The Hollow Crown” butchers the poetry of all the plays in that series and is not worth considering.
Not long ago, Kultur released both parts of “Henry IV” as it was seen at the new Globe Theatre with an excellent Roger Allam as Falstaff, but he was given far too many “funny” bits; and the lack of subtitles made it difficult to follow many of the lines.
And now the Royal Shakespeare Company has produced an interesting “Henry IV, Parts 1 and II,” sold on the same label either separately or as a boxed set. Each Part is on 2 DVDs, each play with a running time of 168 minutes, plus some interesting bonus features and optional running commentary. Best of all, there are subtitles. But there are faults.
The next most popular character in Part I is Hotspur, who forms one vertex of a triangle: Hotspur is all for Honor, Falstaff thinks it merely a word, Hal seems utterly unconcerned with it until he decides to surprise them all. I think the best Hotspur is a very young Sean Connery in “An Age of Kings.” Tim Pigott-Smith is quite good in the BBC series. However, in this RSC production Trevor White looks far too old for the part and overdoes the hyper-energetic aspects of the character while underplaying the humor of it.
The comic scenes are paced very slowly, but most of the jokes fall flat. The scene with Ancient Pistol (Antony Byrne) misses fire, but those with Mistress Quickly (Paula Dionisotti) and Doll Tearsheet (Nia Gynne) are very nicely done. I am afraid that Jasper Britton’s King Henry is far too bland, while Alex Hassell’s Prince Hal is adequate but never outstanding.
As for Antony Sher’s Falstaff, his take on the role is fascinating. In an interview, he says he sees the part not as a comic role but as a character one. Sher’s face has a certain manic look to it but one of intelligence. While I won’t say he is the best Falstaff of the lot, he is certainly a different one.
Given the complete text (only the Epilogue is omitted) and subtitles, I would recommend this set above all the rest. But do not ignore “An Age of Kings” by any means!