And, before you know it, The Show Must Go Online is back in time again with Henry IV, part one. Following on from The Merchant of Venice is what is technically known as the beginning of Shakespeare’s second Henriad, but in this particular presentation it marks the start of the Falstaff trilogy.
Aside from the original (& superior) Hollow Crown series, I’ve only seen Henry IV once – last summer, as part of the Globe’s glorious history cycle. Part one (subtitled Hotspur then) is a great start to the Henriad, and it was a particularly engaging way to begin the summer, the opposing stories of Prince and Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy generating comedy, drama & action. Michelle Terry was on especially good form as Hotspur; I’d initially hoped to include a return visit in #MindTheBard 2019, but the schedule didn’t quite work for me. Needless to say, I was excited to see what TSMGO would do with it.
Professor and author Eric Rasmussen was in charge of this week’s introduction, starting off by mentioning how popular the histories were in Shakespeare’s time – so much so that Henry IV, part one was the Bard’s best-selling play during his lifetime (alongside Richard II & Richard III). Unlike the final instalment in the Henriad, both parts of Henry IV are more character pieces; they chart the development & maturation of Prince Hal into King Henry V (“magnificent king”), and they also feature the “larger than life” Falstaff. It’s also fascinating to note the alternating of scenes between court & tavern, leading to switches between verse & prose. In fact, the tavern can be seen as being “out of space & time”, as it almost seems impervious to events in the outside world, plus Hal is potentially playing at being a delinquent – or is he just lying to us (and maybe himself)?
King Henry IV’s reign has barely begun, and his situation is far from settled – he is unable to embark on his planned crusade to the Holy Land due to troubles on England’s borders. He is clashing more & more with the Percy family (allies in his ascent to the throne), as well as Edmund Mortimer – Richard II’s chosen heir. Prince Hal, meanwhile, is wasting his days in taverns in the company of Falstaff and his band of reprobates. While the prince is in this carefree state, the Percy family join with the Scots & Welsh in rebellion against the king. This gives Hal the chance to prove himself, joining the fight against Hotspur and ordering Falstaff to fight too.
The music from Adam Woodhams this week had a bit of a metal theme, reflecting the rebellious core of the play – be it Prince Hal’s exploits in & around the taverns, or the attempt to depose Henry IV by the Percy family. It definitely set the tone early on, and maintained the high energy required for the fights later on.
In his introduction, Rasmussen likened Hal’s change in character as he nears the throne to breaking an addiction; whether it was a ploy or not, he would still have to completely remove himself from that world and leave friends behind. This was given a good start by Seb Yates-Cridland’s performance – Hal clearly enjoys himself in their company and will join in wholeheartedly with their tricks & japes, but as soon as duty calls he shows the serious side that has been lying dormant all this time. He gets the job done in princely fashion.
Another highlight of the production came in the form of a song. In Act 3 scene 1 Lady Mortimer sings a song in her native Welsh – however, none of this is actually in the script! During the planning stages the team had to do a bit of “investigative journalism” to work out what the words could potentially be, by listening to what Glendower says she is singing and translating it (courtesy of Lynwen Haf Roberts). The tune comes from the Welsh folk song Dacw ‘Nghariad (“There is my sweetheart”), and was performed beautifully by Rhiannon Willans.
The whole cast, as ever, was fantastic and rose to every challenge thrown at them – whether the physical comedy between Francis (Henry Jenkinson), Poins (Duncan Hess) & Hal, or Jack Baldwin seemingly going method as Falstaff drinking the tavern dry. I almost take it for granted at this point that there will be dynamic camera sequences and a series of well-choreographed fights (Enric Ortuno & Yarit Dor), so I was not disappointed on that score either.
As articulated by the cast, it’s a great mix of history, comedy & tragedy, making it an eminently watchable play.
Next week: The Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry IV, part one was broadcast on 24 June 2020. The Show Must Go Online runs every Wednesday at 7pm and is also available to watch afterwards. Become a Patron at The Show Must Go Online’s Patreon page.