Henry IV, Part I: The young and the restless
Ruth McIver looks at an authentic, all male performance of Henry IV and wonders where the heart has gone.
What do you get when you take an all male production of Henry IV and strip it back to its bare bones – no fancy props, no conceptual quirks, postmodern bells or whistles? Well, you get a pretty authentic and unreconstructed glance at what Shakespeare would have been like in the days of Globe. Add about a sixty or so sighing Year Twelve students who have been dragged along as part of a school group because it’s on the syllabus and you’ve got your groundlings.
Nothing but Roaring promises no directorial tricks, no flashy concepts, ‘no bloody mobile phones’ – just Shakespeare. It’s a noble endeavor.
It isn’t all that surprising that actor/director Rob Conkie (Henry Hotspur Percy/ Lord John of Lancaster and Poins) would choose to tackle a traditionalist interpretation of a very important history in the Shakespearian canon. Conkie is a Shakespeare scholar and veteran director. The production is very much pared back and purposefully conservative in staging and costume. Picture a very olde worde looking stage with quills and swords, with the actors dressed in (Elizabethan) period costume. Shocking! The only real quirk was an external dressing room, where the actors disrobed and changed in front of the audience. The players made great use of the warehouse space, and stayed on stage after their scenes were over, impassively watching the action unfold.
Rob Conkie cast well. George Lingard was suitably bratty, impetuous and humbled as Prince Hal- and in his blond youth had no trouble playing Kate Percy (cue gasps and ewwws when Kate plonked a kiss on Bob Pavlich (Henry IV/ Mortimer). Tom Considine was born to be a character actor – the audience perked up whenever the sack full, pillow-stuffed Falstaff took to the stage. The player’s playful interaction with the audience enlivened the audience and added a crucial comic element to the production.
The purity in vision behind the production and the pedigree of the players made want to love this – but alas I didn’t.
I’m going to admit that I had trouble with how overwhelmingly masculine Henry IV is as a text, but essentially the battles for supremacy, dominion and conflict between father and son have more than enough moments of passion and pathos to overcome this. This production didn’t do justice to Shakespeare’s poetry, which even a Year Twelve can tell you is like, totally universal.
The character dynamics and indeed the chemistry between the players felt a little stale and one dimensional. Unlike sister production that was also showing at fortyfivedownstairs (The Zoey Louise Moonbeam Dawson Shakespeare Company’s all-female production of Romeo and Juliet), it was difficult to emotionally engage with the performances. The groundlings spoke by their restless shifting and texting: sadly the heart just wasn’t in this Henry IV.
Henry IV Part one was performed by Nothing but Roaring at fortyfivedownstairs