Henry IV at the Swan

Article excerpt

The RSC have launched a new series of productions of Shakespeare's history plays under the title This England, the Histories but unusually the individual plays are being given in different venues under different directors. Richard II opened in March at The Other Place but the first of the series I attended was Henry IV Part 1 at The Swan on 19 April directed by Michael Attenborough. His approach is dark, tough and anti-poetic. Hotspur uses language as a weapon rather than as a delight. The scenes with Kate which can so easily give an insight into a more relaxed society, a personal world divorced from the tensions of the political arena, are here fretted and anxious. If there is a sensual side to their relationship it is consistently and rigorously suppressed. Only Lady Mortimer shows any femininity or emotion and she can only speak Welsh!

Within the tension of the Civil Wars which brood throughout Falstaff brings an uneasy relief. There is little outright comedy in Desmond Barrit's anti-hero, though he finds sympathy and an aristocratic voice which is often lacking. This Falstaff is a Lord for all his fooling with the plebs, an acceptable social equal to the Prince. William Houston risks making the Prince something of an unlikable lout in the early scenes and one whose transformation has to be worked for with his father, rather than seeming inevitable. That he achieves the transformation with aplomb makes his development into Henry V all the more interesting.

At the heart of the play is David Troughton's highly strung King. This is a fine performance which manages to convey a range of emotions within the necessary limits of a constant state of nervous tension. …