Looks like it might be a good summer for plays with Henry in the title at Shakespeare’s Globe. Hard on the heels of a powerful Henry VIII comes the first instalment of Dominic Dromgoole’s Henry IV, a low-concept, scruffy and muscular crowd-pleaser, and (by some distance) the best-spoken account of the play I’ve yet to hear.
Eschewing the emotional chiaroscuro of more contemplative, claustrophobic visions, this Henry IV 1 is a rollicking paean to the mythology of wild prince Hal. In the Boar’s Head tavern (presided over by a tart Barbara Marten and the beatifically placid William Gaunt), Jamie Parker’s sunny prince disports himself, displaying a most un-regal knack for tumbling, penny-whistle playing and flirting with (delighted) groundlings. Not a whit the Machiavellian dissembler, this is a Hal who morphs from loveable madcap to charismatic martial hero with unselfconscious ease, leaving others to marvel at the suddenness and subtlety of the transformation.
Altogether less blithe is Roger Allam’s Falstaff; a shrewd old soldier, disreputable but far from daft, whose determinedly economic engagement with life’s actualités is a charade accomplished enough to fool everyone but himself. It’s he, and not his easygoing protégé, who broods, bleary-eyed on an uncertain future. But, a showman to his fingertips, he buries this more-sombre-self under a welter of affectionate buffoonery, and the imperturbable facade of habitual vice.
This is a production more concerned with the fate of mates than that of nations. By contrast with the laid-back fellowship of East Cheap, the highly-strung, wasp-stung Hotspur of Sam Crane is a self-regarding liability, callowly fumbling each chance to make his peace with Lorna Stuart’s alert, politic and queenly Kate.
The company’s repertoire of ballads and drinking songs veers tipsily between booze-fuelled jollity and morning-after melancholy, and their air of easy camaraderie suits the show’s unpretentious, blokeish charm. Part 2 is due at the start of July (so watch this space for further news …), but even without its climactic sequel this is a roguishly appealing, stand-alone historical romp.