Henry IV: Part 1 at Shakespeare’s Globe
Once an ally of King Henry IV (Philip Arditti), the Percys, with Harry “Hotspur” (Michelle Terry) now leading their pack, have assumed the role of rebels. Whilst Hotspur embodies the disciplined persona of a military warrior who is ready for battle, the King’s son, Prince Hal (Sarah Amankwah), is quite the opposite and would much rather be parading around, seeking the company of the lecherous Sir John Falstaff (Helen Schlesinger) instead. Hard work does prevail though, so when Hotspur and Hal challenge each other to an almighty dual, the latter takes it all, paving the way for his future role as successor to the throne.
The first of three plays, Henry IV: Part 1, or simply Hotspur, has surprisingly little to do with the notion of war itself and more to do with the presentation of human emotions in the run up to and in the aftermath of conflict. It illustrates the unscrupulous side of humanity when on the quest to power, as well as the breakdowns that can sometimes occur in relationships when success beckons for one party member and not the other. Interestingly enough, the real-life situation of the actors playing these roles contradicts the ideologies evoked in the play; Henry IV: Part 1 has very much been written as an ensemble piece, one where there are no hierarchies – no role supersedes the other. Nevertheless, the adoption of multiple roles by certain actors does not triumph in all cases as, other than there being changes in costume, the performers occasionally struggle to embody the spirit of the parts they are playing, especially during the battle scenes, where the fights seem more improvised than choreographed, and would have gravely lacked in energy had it not been for the drumming beats of the entourage of musicians supporting them in the background to heighten the tension surrounding the conflict.
In Shakespeare’s day, female parts were played by male actors and this staging of Henry IV: Part 1 sees many of its characters cross-gendering. For some, such as Falstaff, it works as Schlesinger pulls off the masculine flare credibly, effortlessly commanding the audience’s attention with her facetiousness and exuberance. All being said, the production portrays a fair representation of modern-day Britain with all its diverse racial and cultural identity, which one can and should be immensely proud of.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Henry IV: Part 1 is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 10th May until 11th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.