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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
HENRY IV PARTS ONE AND TWO
at Shakespeare’s Globe

THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
By CLAIRE ALLFREE

  Jamie Parker and Oliver Cotton/ Ph: John Haynes

Founded by an American and beloved by tourists, Shakespeare’s Globe often struggles to win over British theatre critics. But the outdoor theatre comes into its own with these gregarious productions of Shakespeare’s two great history plays, not least since both vividly underscore just how physically sympathetic the Globe’s architecture is to Shakespeare’s epic, socially inclusive theatrical vision. Here, in a building that also reportedly doubled up as a brothel, peasants once stood a spit away from the landed gentry; in Henry IV Parts One and Two prostitutes mingle with princes and the action moves back and forth between whoring, boozing and nation-building political disputes. And at the centre is Falstaff, arguably Shakespeare’s most majestic, subversive character, who with his base hedonism and charismatic dissemblance serves as a distinctively ignoble celebration of outlaw-heroic excess.

The Globe has often faltered in attracting top-drawer acting talent, but here it scores a bull's-eye with Roger Allam, who fills Falstaff’s considerable girth with effortless exuberance. Allam, in keeping with artistic director Dominic Dromgoole’s recent emphasis on Shakespeare as unashamedly crowd-pleasing entertainment, fulsomely (and with piercingly articulacy) plays to the gallery, but he combines Falstaff’s roguish swagger with an acute intelligence. This Falstaff may be a bit of a buffoon, but he’s certainly no fool. There is something suitably kingly about Allam as he sweeps across the stage, and his performance is so sharp, enjoyable and earthy (he pisses literally into a pot at one point) that his less palatable thieving, cheating and whoring comes across as wholly essential functions of a gigantic, life-affirming appetite.

His relationship with Jamie Parker’s fresh-faced young Hal is also intriguingly complex. In a lethally focused performance, Parker disguises a ruthless determination beneath a clean and inscrutable interior. Allam gives Falstaff a megalomaniacal self-absorption that superficially seems to suggest this Falstaff is less emotionally sensitive; but it’s a measure of the depth of Allam’s performance and the subtly intuitive relationship he shares with Parker that that appalling moment at the end of Part II is even more brutal than usual.

Elsewhere there are many well-worked-through supporting performances. Oliver Cotton is a fine autocratic King on whom the existential burden of kingship weighs heavy, while Sam Crane’s Hotspur is a callow pipsqueak inflated by headstrong adolescent ambition – and the absolute inverse of his nemesis young Hal.

The trick of these two plays is to ease from the boisterous politicking of the first half into the more subdued twilight of Part II and, in doing so, map out prince Hal’s journey from boy to man. Here Dromgoole stumbles a little; the endless scenes between Falstaff and the feathery-brained Shallow and Silence (William Gaunt and Christopher Godwin) feel at the expense of exploring the play’s darker moods, and the key scene in which Hal takes the crown from his dying father’s bed is rushed. But elsewhere Dromgoole combines propulsive political theatre with reams of gutsy social detail, be it vomiting prostitutes or steely minded princes. Crucially he makes the audience part of the production in subtle but essential ways. These are plays of their time, for their time, and 500 years on, they feel as true as ever.

 


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