The event is part of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s Open Stages project, for which professionals from Stratford on Avon work with amateurs around the country on productions aimed at making the Bard more accessible to new audiences.
The BOAT production, a clever joining of Henry IV parts I and II, certainly fulfills that aim, incorporating all the “big scenes” and making the most of the comedy moments (starring that great Shakespearean favourite, the fat knight Sir John Falstaff.)
It’s a big swirling story, as Henry, engaged in civil wars with various lords and their followers, bemoans the behaviour of his son Prince Hal. The princeling is keener on drinking and playing practical jokes with his dissolute friends in the London taverns than taking his place by his father, and these two plays follow his rights of passage from layabout to king (Henry V).
The substantial set and atmospheric lighting (both designed by Jonathan Ledger and Kevin Wilkins) allowed the action to move seamlessly from tavern to Gads Hill to battlefield to palace, and the textual cuts cleverly sped up some of the more complex action, so that both pace and context were maintained.
Most of the cast is male, and BOAT is fortunate to be able to draw from some of the best actors across the region.
Brian Woolton, such an impressive Pericles last year, returns to the starring role of Hal, with Jamie Morris powerfully charismatic as Hotspur and John Billington managing the mood swings and decline of Henry IV with poignant conviction.
Chaz Davenport is a great Falstaff. He’s a large man and the director and costume designers resisted the temptation to put him in a fat suit, decreasing the caricature elements and concentrating on the braggadocio and cowardice. He had the audience in stitches.
June Garland and Val Thomas were the good-hearted Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly at the Boar’s Head Tavern, and Kyle Miley the scheming wide-boy Poins and the loopy recruit Simon Shadow.
The BOAT version of Henry IV is funny, colourful, dramatic history, and the production is perfectly suited to the lawns of Brownsea – always a magical setting for an alfresco play.
It continues until 8th August, on alternate nights and never on a Sunday.
For more information, visit the website, www.brownsea-theatre.co.uk