Our president, Frances, and three other Shakespeare Club members, went to see the recent Bell Shakespeare production in Perth. I (Satima) saw it on another night, and it’s interesting to read our slightly differing takes on the production. You can read my review at http://au.artshub.com/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/henry-4-194926 and there's one by David Zampatti from The West Australian at
It’s always interesting to read the many and varied critiques different people give to the same work! Here is Frances’s review.
Thanks to Elaine’s efficient booking service, four of us went on Saturday to see the Bell Shakespeare production of Henry 4.
Congratulations go first to the editor. He managed to combine Parts I and II of Henry IV into a single performance, while keeping admirably clear the main lines of the plot: the political struggles between king and barons, the tensions between king and crown prince, and the low life characters who used and were used by the prince.
The design and direction of the performance were innovative and easily kept the audience fully attentive. The play’s opening scene established immediately the up-dated interpretation, with a mob of unruly, disaffected urban youths vandalising a seedy disco, the action culminating in the destruction of the central portion of a massive rear wall. Clearly the violent disorder which threatens the peaceful government of modern cities was to be equated with the treacherous uprisings of the mediaeval nobility and their threats to the peaceful unity of the whole kingdom. At first the back wall appeared to be a non-descript yellowish structure, but with clever lighting became a huge Union Jack which was rent in two by the rowdy bovver boys.
The different contending groups were clearly distinguishable, and the actors gave us a wonderful range of strong characters. Henry IV himself was a powerful presence at the start, and in the course of the play became convincingly older and more feeble, as Prince Hal rose in authority. There were delights in the supporting roles: the warm mutual affection between Hotspur and his wife; Bardolph with his afflicted face; Justice Shallow in the golden afternoon of Gloucestershire contrasting beautifully with the grime of Eastcheap; Mistress Quickly (although at first so strident as to be almost incomprehensible) giving her breakneck account of Falstaff’s proposal; and of course Falstaff himself, with his ebullient relishing of words, his cunning and manipulativeness, but also his vulnerability as glimpses of old age and loneliness emerged.
The play itself is so full of interest, and the plot was kept simple and direct so that, with the very fine speaking of the dialogue, one could note at least some of the associated ideas which arose. I was struck, for instance, by the horrifying insights into the nature of war and attitudes to it – the dishonesty of the recruitment process, the robbing of the corpses, the views on 'cannon fodder', among others.
It must always be a problem to stage battle scenes, but this production created a very convincing suggestion of the mayhem through a mixture of lighting and sound effects and wild movement. The fight between Hotspur and Hal was effectively choreographed with only the two on stage, accompanied by the evocative sounds of metal striking metal, suggestive of swords and armour. Prior to the big fights, the company sang ‘And did those feet…’ (to the tune Jerusalem) as a battle hymn. It was rousingly delivered, with a real sense of patriotic fervour, but I found it inappropriate and intrusive, as a song with far too many mental and emotional associations, far removed from the situation being depicted. (Since the editing had removed all reference to the king’s early wish for atonement through a crusade to Jerusalem, and to the fact that the king was dying in the Jerusalem chamber at Westminster, perhaps this song could be seen as covering those details.)
This was my only real quibble for the whole afternoon. The performance was absorbing, with a fine balance between the low comedy of the inn and the formality of the court, and a strong build-up to the triumph of Hal’s coronation and the pathos of Falstaff’s humiliation.
Altogether it was a most enjoyable visit to the theatre.