On to the play that I and probably most people forget, if it weren’t for the fact that Henry IV Part 1 implies there would be a Part 2! For that reason, I don’t think a production of Henry IV Part 2 is ever necessarily going to wow audiences, but the RSC did a solid job in this adaptation.
Jasper Britton excels as Henry IV and it’s amazing to see his transformation throughout the plays. In yesterday’s review of Henry IV Part 1, I spoke about how this king is physically wearied and we now see a mentally wearied king here too. Even in moments of hope, these are laced with a sigh of exhaustion. This made the Jerusalem speeches have even more impact and I cried at the Jerusalem bed scene reveal. The ‘death’ scene (for whatever reason) I remembered to be funny, so when he did it with such fervour and real anguish it was incredibly affective. Britton has been stellar throughout the three plays and will be my enduring Henry IV.
Taking on the mantle of prince, we see a reforming Hal in Alec Hassell though we do get the odd nod to his previous riotous self with the Poins and Falstaff scenes. But Hassell plays these with a sadness and knowing look this is indeed the last time. There’s an offhand comment about Poins having machinations concerning Hal marrying his sister, to which Hal replies, ‘But do you use me thus, Ned? must I marry your sister?’ In previous productions I’ve seen, this has been played in joking manner. Here, Hassell plays it brilliantly with an honesty and sadness which proves a turning point in their relationship. The final scenes with the newly crowned Henry V are great and Hassell bears himself kingly in every aspect, serving as a great contrast to his father’s ascension.
Antony Sher improves somewhat as Falstaff, picking up the pace a little. To his credit, the scenes with Oliver Ford Davies’ Shallow are quite funny and they bounce off each other well in terms of energy. These two I can see as friends. Still not Hal and Falstaff though.Elsewhere, Anthony Byrne makes for a memorable turn as Pistol and Sean Chapman returns as the revenging father Northumberland, bringing a tension and emotional truth in his scenes with the incomparable Jennifer Kerby’s Kate.
Oh and finally: the bow. Everyone bowed at the same time, with Britton taking centre spot. I was very pleased. Sher maybe less so, as it became apparent Britton had usurped Sher’s spot. Quite how a king can usurp another’s spot in their own play is beyond me. But Britton was incredibly apologetic and they played it off well while Hassell and others laughed it off! I think I laughed more at that bit than at any of Falstaff’s scenes in Henry IV Part 1.
Verdict: Britton bows out as a memorable Henry IV in a production which while not groundbreaking, has moments of brilliance.