Magazine article The Spectator

Power Broking

Magazine article The Spectator

Power Broking

Article excerpt

Theatre 2

Henry IV, Part I (Swan Theatre, Stratford)

The Comedy of Errors (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford)

Getting the RSC's history-plays marathon off to such a compelling start with a modernist Richard II was never going to make life easy for the seven productions that are to follow. The overall strategy, as Adrian Noble half-jokingly declares, is `post-modernist', meaning that although there'll be continuities in casting the styles of staging will differ.

Thus many of those who played at The Other Place in Steven Pimlott's modern-- dress Richard II now find themselves in vaguely antique costume at The Swan in a more traditional production of Henry IV Part 1 by Michael Attenborough. It's as though the cast of Dad's Army were to turn up to film the next episode only to find not khaki fatigues but suits of armour laid out in their dressing-rooms.

It's scarcely surprising that Adam Levy's Hotspur who'd introduced himself in Richard II as an SAS toughie should have problems in growing the role to its climax while inhabiting chain mail. Levy is not short on energy, but it's external and here, as elsewhere, the players do not always find the sense of palpable danger in the battles for power. At the end of Richard II, David Troughton's Bolingbroke had stepped up to a bentwood throne set on Richard's coffin with an anticipation of the words with which he now has to open the Henry plays - `So shaken as we are, so wan with care.' But this time he's on his knees in a penitential robe, a heavy wooden crucifix about his neck. The tone of voice is mellower, but he's still taking short, noisy breaths and tending to gravel the text. Nevertheless, this is an impressive characterisation of a careworn king, the cold-blue eyes glazed over with the uneasy burden.

Life is easier for the actors new to the team. William Houston's Prince is already at one remove from the depravity of Eastcheap. In the great scene where Hal pretends to be his father dressing him down, Houston is at first amused to discover how easily he parodies Henry but is then brought up short by the chill realisation that all too soon he will find it expeditious to `banish plump Jack'. Houston makes a promising, exploratory skirmish into a role that he'll sustain through to Henry V.

Desmond Barrit's Falstaff is already as ripe as you could wish. In questioning `honour' there is no windy rhetoric or pathos, just a worldly-wise view of it as a `mere scutcheon'. This is the real thing, never a caricature but a compelling portrait of a corpulent colossus adrift on an uncomfortably fast tide of events. …

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