Richard II at the Barbican, LondonJanuary 16, 2016
Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 at the BarbicanJanuary 17, 2016
I have to say that Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 are not among my favorite Shakespeare plays but they do connect the story from Richard II to Henry V. To my mind there is just too much of Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Played so ably and with great wit by Antony Sher, Falstaff is the great scene stealer and major contributor to the debauchery of Prince Hal, the Prince of Wales, soon to become Henry V, the quintessential English King. In Henry IV Part 1 Sir John and Prince Hal, well played by Alex Hassell, and their compatriots drink, play pranks and generally create scenes of merriment and wit. By Henry IV Part 2 I have always felt that less of Falstaff and more of the development of Prince Hal into the royal Prince of Wales would benefit that play. The defeat of “Hotspur” by the prince demonstrates the conversion of the later from playboy to warrior Prince. Matthew Needham plays a suitably “hot” and determined Hotspur, willing to battle the forces of King Henry IV with an outnumbered force, to the eventual defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury. The decline of Henry IV, ably acted by Jasper Britton and his declaration that “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, signals the rise of the Prince of Wales to his eventual transformation to Henry V, although not without a struggle with his reluctant, dying father Henry IV. Mistress Quickly, Bardolf, Pistol and the gang at Eastcheap add to the merriment. Although not my personal favorites, these two play were beautifully performed by the superb cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The excellent lighting, costumes, scenery and live music all added to the spectacle.