If you want to see excellent theatre, excellent acting and how Shakespeare can be given an accessible, modern staging without modernising the language, then go see Bell Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
I came away very impressed, and most of the chatter from the exiting crowd indicated I wasn’t alone. A simple grungy set. Live guitar and drums on stage. A really great use of costume. And John Bell doing an amazing Falstaff.
Falstaff – if you don’t know the play – is one of Shakespeare’s best comic characters. A devious, deceitful man who’s done his best to corrupt Henry IV’s son, Falstaff is funny and disgusting in equal measures.
But what I loved about this staging was the same actors playing multiple roles and doing it effortlessly. It’s a real joy to see such talent.
I tip my hat to Bell Shakespeare for making this a slightly gross (throwing up on stage, anyone?), totally un-politically-correct version. It’s also impressive to see actors doing such a long play (over 3 hours) with John Bell and Matthew Moore, who plays Prince Hal, on stage for almost all of that time.
Henry IV is one of my favourite plays (it’s actually two plays but often staged as a single work) because it’s a very funny drama. Not as outlandish as a lot of the comedies and not dire like many of the tragedies. And don’t be fooled, it’s not really about Henry IV – it’s about his son. While the action of much of the plot is driven by Henry IV’s actions, it is really the coming of age story of Prince Hal; the man who would be Henry V and beat the French at the battle of Agincourt.
For me personally, seeing Henry IV was a little nostalgic, as it was this same play that first introduced me to Bell Shakespeare many years ago. That version was the start of a love-affair with their productions. I thought it was great, but this new staging is remarkable.