“Henry IV” at the Globe

IMG_20150625_0001“Henry IV” at the Globe

   Performances of plays from Shakespeare’s Globe continue to appear on Kultur DVDs, with mixed results. The production of “Henry IV, Parts I and II” (in two separate jewel cases of two discs each) is extremely well done, except for moments of shtick designed to make Falstaff (Roger Allam) “funnier.” Falstaff is funny but never absurd. Here the director goes for cheap laughs from an audience that is assumed not to understand anything subtle.

For example, it is fitting that the prostitute Doll Tearsheet (Jade Williams) should vomit. It is not that she should vomit again, this time over a member of the audience. But to spend a full minute of Falstaff’s (simulated) urinating into a small pot is more distasteful than funny. And the entire episode of Ancient Pistol (Sam Crane) disrupting the inn is so loud and slapstick that little of the shouted dialogue is understandable.

Roger Allam out of makeup

Oliver Cotton brings little characterization to Henry IV. When Falstaff reports that the king’s beard has turned white at some bad news, one has already seen his beard to be already white. Didn’t anyone in the make-up department catch this? In fact, Shakespeare uses old age as a theme in Part II, and most of the characters refer to themselves as considerably older than they were in Part I. In this production, no one seems to have aged.

Hal and Falstaff at Quickly’s inn

The story is that Shakespeare really did not wish to bring Falstaff into another play, but the public demanded it. And to tell the truth, that character begins to grow tedious as Part II goes on. Shakespeare is merely recycling the comic material from Part I by extending it. The director does not help by having Falstaff imitate a rock guitarist when playing a lute, and the pelvic thrusts grow tiresome. Since the costumes and setting are all Elizabethan, such anachronisms defeat the purpose of the enterprise at Shakespeare’s Globe.

On the other hand, Allam is an intelligent actor; and for the most part, his Falstaff is quite good. I blame only the director for the faults in his characterization.

Played by Jamie Parker, Prince Hal is forever barnstorming his lines, so that his lowlife Hal and his serious Prince Henry are hard to tell apart. Perhaps some of this is caused by the necessity to speak at full volume so the entire 180 degrees of audience can hear the lines if not see all of the action.

Thanks to a good supporting cast, this is a very satisfactory production of “Henry IV,” with Part I done better than Part II.

The text is fairly complete, which makes for some very long speeches. The actors, especially Oliver Cotton, should be drilled in breaking these speeches into beats, rather than pushing on through them and losing the strings of thoughts so carefully developed by the author.

Much is made of interpolated songs, mostly to cover scenery changes (which are done efficiently by the cast) and sometimes to set a mood. But the dances at the end use modern moves, which again destroys the illusion of “Shakespeare as it once was.”

Note: Try to read “Richard II,” at least the last two acts, or a good synopsis. Most viewers will understand little of the background of these plays without doing so.

The running time of Part I is 167 minutes, that of Part II is 171. The picture is in 16:9 widescreen and there are no subtitles (which are badly needed).

Henry IV, Parts 1, 2


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.

Antony-Sher-Falstaff-and--008As 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!