Henry IV parts I & II (RSC), Theatre Royal, Norwich. October 2014.
This past week I have spent a little over 6 hours in the theatre watching the two parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV and even now a few days on I am really not sure what I thought of the two plays.
Overall I enjoyed the duo but not as much as I'd expected, and this isn't just because the theatre seats weren't that comfortable for that length of time - after all I am happy to spend this much time at the Globe on wooden benches in the rain...
Whilst saying that I enjoyed the plays overall I am hard pressed to think of any specific moments except the choreography of the battle in part I and the deathbed scene and aftermath in part II. Both of these captivated me wholly and were a wonder to watch, and the latter did move me. The speaking and singing in Welsh during part I were also impressive.
However it would be fair to say that had these plays been renamed Falstaff part I & II it would be a fairer account of how the plays were staged/directed. As I never warmed to Sir Antony Sher's version of the character this was a bit of a problem. I felt no chemistry at all between him and the rest of the cast, especially Prince Hal, and thus when he was rejected at the very end it didn't feel a surprise or a betrayal - something I keenly felt when seeing the DVD of the Globe version and from reading the texts.
The direction of Hotspur in part I also caused me some problems as he was played as completely unlikeable, again not something I've come across before. For sure he should be hot-headed but there was no reason at all for Henry IV to prefer him over Hal in this version and rather than hoping that the underdog would win I wanted to cheer when he was killed.
Possibly the biggest problem for me was that from the circle I couldn't tell Prince Hal and his companion Poins apart and for much of the production (whether intentional direction or not) I felt that Poins was more imposing than Hal and thus I mistook him for the prince in many scenes.
It all sounds very negative, and after part I that is certainly how I felt, part II did improve the experience for me but it all felt very worthy and the joy that I've found in Shakespeare (even in the versions of Macbeth and Richard III at the Trafalgar studios) was missing here.
My complaints could be because the staging didn't work so well in a traditional, dark, proscenium arch theatre where the acoustics were not the best but I think that my unease and dislike of the production are deeper than this and again it is that I prefer the Globe's interpretation to that of the RSC.
I'm glad I saw this, and after the recent treat that was Two Gentlemen of Verona, I am a little disappointed in my reaction but it does confirm that I am right to travel to London regularly rather than struggling to Stratford. I will keep trying the RSC versions at the cinema however!