REVIEW: Henry IV Part One, Royal Shakespeare Company, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Antony Sher as Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Harry
Antony Sher as Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Harry
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A SLACKER son who becomes a hero, a hero son who becomes a renegade and a cowardly knight who remains thus.

Set among streets and buildings bearing the names of characters in the play, Newcastle seems the perfect place to stage Shakespeare’s tale of embattled royals and rebellious Northumbrians.

Henry IV Part One begins the Royal Shakespeare Company’s season at the Theatre Royal. The king is in trouble, bogged down in broils with the Scots and the Welsh, and the powerful Percy family.

Adding to his worries is his heir Harry, the future Henry V, who is more at home in bawdy taverns than he is at court.

By contrast, Harry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland, is much admired by the king – until he leads a rebellion against him.

Then it is time for the other Harry to step up and become a hero himself.

The Bard’s script paints neither side as the villains, perhaps to avoid offending either the contemporary Earl or incumbent monarch.

Alex Hassell’s charismatic portrayal of Prince Harry contrasts nicely with Trevor White’s passionate performance of Harry Hotspur.

Both, however, are overshadowed by Antony Sher’s Falstaff, his rich, full-blooded, philosophical performance bringing the corpulent coward to life in all his bombastic boastfulness.

Not for nothing is Sher the posterboy for this production, his valedictory centre-stage bow peaking the applause.

This is a hearty staging of one of Shakespeare’s most popular history plays, with all the opulent design, beefy performances and technical perfection expected of the RSC.

A guaranteed crowd pleaser which seems to have pacified the RCS’s critics.

•Henry IV, Part One runs until October 4. The RSC are also staging Henry IV Part Two until October 4, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona from October 7 to 11.

Tickets can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk.