Henry IV Parts I and II, RSC at Bath Theatre Royal

Henry IV Part 2 - (l-r) Jim Hooper (Silence), Antony Sher (Falstaff), Oliver Ford Davies (Shallow) - Photo credit Kwame LestradeLIKE a slightly drunk man trying to retain his dignity, Antony Sher’s rambunctious Falstaff carefully enunciates each word, bringing Shakespeare’s larger-than-life “fat knight” to even more vibrant life.

His performance is the centrepiece in Greg Doran’s touring Royal Shakespeare Company production of the Henry IV plays, on stage at Bath Theatre Royal to 8th November, but this is so much more than a star vehicle.

The company can call on the large casts that most theatres can now only dream of, so Stephen Brimson Lewis’s adaptable set, encompassing the grandeur of the court, the bleakness of the battlefield and the cosy familiarity of the inns of Eastcheap, is filled with action.

It’s complicated history that Shakespeare unfolds in these plays.

Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt and deposer of Richard II, is a less-than-popular king. He wants to do right, but his health is failing and his eldest son, Hal, (Alex Hassell) is the sort of young tearaway you’d dread, a drunken, whoring petty-criminal whose exploits are fuelled by the bad company he keeps.

Henry IV Part 2 - Alex Hassell (Prince Hal) - Photos by Kwame LestradeBut when the crown is threatened by rebellion led by disaffected uncles and cousins, it’s time for the Prince of Wales to grow up, and these plays chart that transformation.

The title role is a difficult one, but here Jasper Britton makes him sympathetic in his towering helplessness.

Trevor White’s wired and bulge-eyed Hotspur is a young man as recognisable to a modern audience as is Hal, and all the more powerful for it.

This is an accessible and thoughtful production, full of tiny detail that underlines the timelessness of the plays.

There are still a handful of tickets for this double bill, which can be counted as another RSC triumph.



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