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

Antony Sher (Sir John Falstaff),  Nia Gwynne (Doll Tearsheet) and Paola Dionisotti (Mistress Quickly).
Antony Sher (Sir John Falstaff), Nia Gwynne (Doll Tearsheet) and Paola Dionisotti (Mistress Quickly).
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IT’S a tale of two halves, Brian.

Picking up the story after the Battle of Shrewsbury, Henry IV Part II follows the King from victory to death, and his son Harry from glory to greatness.

After heroics in battle, young Hal disappoints his father once more by continuing friendships among London lowlife.

Another rebellion is launched, but quietly defeated by the machinations of Prince John, Harry’s younger brother.

Cowardly knight Falstaff, having established himself as crowd-pleasing comic relief in Part I, gets his own story line.

He has a relationship with a prostitute then heads to the country, recruiting yokels and visiting old friend Shallow.

Antony Sher’s Falstaff is magnificent, but loses some of its piquancy in the over-stretched plot – perhaps fair to blame the playwright and not the performer.

Similarly, Harry’s hopscotch half of the story gives Jude Law-esque lead Alex Hassell little chance to shine.

For me, it is the occupants of two lesser roles who steal the show.

Tavern hostess Mistress Quickly is nimbly played by Paola Dionisotti, the personification of every disapproving, chastising matriarchal character you’ve ever come across.

Similarly, Oliver Ford Davies’ performance of Justice Shallow is a sensational treatment of such a small part.

For both Part I and II, the RSC has stuck to a classic style – no motorbikes or modern settings here.

Part I begins, however, with Antony Byrne appearing as Rumour in a t-shirt surrounded by projections of hashtags.

A nice nod to rumour in the modern world, but it’s too incongruous with the rest of the production, making it something of an adjunct oddity.

Overall, though, the RSC have done an admirable job with what can only be described as one of Shakespeare’s doozies.