No Hoorays for Henry IV; Light Fantastic ... Jonathan Slinger Is 'Terrific' as King Richard, with Hannah Barrie as Queen Isabel in Richard II

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), August 26, 2007 | Go to article overview

No Hoorays for Henry IV; Light Fantastic ... Jonathan Slinger Is 'Terrific' as King Richard, with Hannah Barrie as Queen Isabel in Richard II


Byline: Robert Gore-Langton

Richard II Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon 3hrs 15mins (includinginterval)

Henry IV Part 1 Courtyard Theatre, Stratfordupon-Avon 3hrs 10mins (including interval)

Henry IV Part 2 Courtyard Theatre, Stratfordupon-Avon 3hrs 10mins (including interval)

Two cheers only for this three-play marathon as the Royal Shakespeare Companyploughs through the History plays at its home in Stratford. I say two cheersbecause although Richard II is a superb production, the two Henrys aren't and,frankly, ten hours' theatre in a single day is a bottom-bruising event evenwhen the work is top-notch.

The shows all share one set (by Tom Piper) of what you might call IndustrialTudor: the cast sport beautiful (if anachronistic) Elizabethan-style costumesagainst a modern steel tower upstage. The ace up the sleeve is JonathanSlinger's terrific Richard who, with his pasty face and ginger wig, looks a bitlike Glenda Jackson's Elizabeth I, only less butch.

His Richard is camp, petulant, witty and, having stupidly chucked away hiscrown, regally self-pitying. Slinger's voice effortlessly bounces the gorgeousrhyming verse off the walls. He's particularly mesmerising in the greatspeeches on kingship, matched in charisma by Clive Wood's steely Bolingbroke.

The show is rather charmingly full of laughter as well as pathos. The King'sgardener (Roger Watkins doubles up as head groundsman and a memorable John ofGaunt) causes much joy by spraying weedkiller over the front-row critics -every actor's dream.

Richard ends up getting the chop at Pomfret Castle, his deposition causing theWars of the Roses, which Shakespeare dramatises in the three Henry VI plays tobe added to this sequence next year. Meanwhile, Bolingbroke becomes the nextKing as Henry IV.

Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 are more actionpacked plays, which whisk us fromcourt to battlefield to tavern in an England devastated by civil strife.

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