Henry IV Part 1 & II – reviews of RSC's 'vivid' history plays

Apr 22, 2014

RSC sublimely blends gloom and merriment in this insightful take on Shakespeare's history plays

What you need to know
The RSC's new production of Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts I & II has opened in Stratford-upon-Avon. Gregory Doran directs both plays starring Jasper Britton as Henry IV, with Alex Hassell and Antony Sher.

Part I depicts the uneasy reign of King Henry IV, troubled by the murder of his predecessor Richard II, rising unrest among his subjects, and the delinquency of his son Prince Hal (Hassell), who frequents taverns with his bawdy companion Falstaff (Sher). Part II focuses on Henry IV's decline and Prince Hal's journey toward kingship. Runs until 6 September, then touring.

What the critics like
Doran's production "combines richness of texture with psychological insight" and a major performance from Antony Sher, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. In a perfect fusion of production and performance, Sher balances Falstaff's cruelty with his charm.

These "spacious, vivid" productions have an assured grasp of the plays' panoramic sweep, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. Sher gives a commandingly comic performance as Falstaff and is surrounded by a crack company who sublimely blend fathomless gloom and mad merriment.

"With deepening poignancy, Doran explores the tenderness within a culture of armed masculinity," says Kate Bassett in The Times. This double bill is an insightful and enjoyable addition to Doran's new RSC cycle of Shakespeare's histories.

What they don't like
While these plays "show the RSC at its more dependable and royally accomplished, it needs to be careful it doesn't only do what we've come to expect", says Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph. And as the run progresses, they should pick up some pace. 

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