Fresh from hearing more BBC news about dissatisfied rebels in Egypt, the Fanning/Portier production of Henry IV kept the audience gripped. Shakespeare re-told history; Peter Fanning has edited Shakespeare to produce a taut tale of action and betrayal. A tale of three Henrys: arrogant Henry Bolingbroke and his feckless son Prince Hal, played with assurance by Jack Flowers and Rob Cross respectively, versus Alessandro Rebecchi’s powerful portrayal of the hot-headed, gunpowder-spirited Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy. The prize? The kingdom of England.
From the opening ‘shots’ of newspaper pages, authentic maps, the effective tableaux of the battles and the busy ‘ops’ room, this modern dress production, complete with AK47s, caught the anger and passion of warfare, with polished ensemble playing (and clarity of verse-speaking) from the whole cast, supported with professional ease by the technical team.
The mood music, provided by John Moore, used dark organ pieces and music hall piano to switch between the civil war on the field and civilian disputes in the pub. Sienna Holmes’ beautifully timed interjections as the Devon landlady added a lightness of touch to an otherwise dark view of human behaviour. There were many delicious cameo moments: Sam Ansloos as the talkative, good-hearted Welshman; Alice Paul, ‘Mrs Hotspur’, as a determined foil to her fiery husband; red-nosed Bardolph (James McGeorge) and cockney Poins (Gus Haynes), both in the thrall of Sir John Falstaff, played with intensity by Jack Viljoen.
At the end, we cared who won. The final battles between the two younger Henrys, and then the emotional one between the father and son, in which both actors showed their full range, had real strength and power. The final tableau, with low-life and high-life in juxtaposition, against the backdrop of the anarchic yet formal set design, gave a sense of completion: the son had indeed become his father.