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Review: The Globe Production of Henry IV Part I (****)

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The Globe’s production of Henry IV Part I is available:
– For streaming from The Globe Player (£6 /~ $9)
– For purchase and download as an MP4 from The Globe Player (£10 / ~$15)
– As a DVD from Amazon.co.uk for  £20 / ~$30.00 and from Amazon.com  for $19.59

Note that prices quoted are indicative and subject to change. Check the prices on the Vendors’ pages at the links above.

 If you want to know more about how to stream a Globe production, check out our:


or check out our Globe Player Help page – it points up which productions our readers prefer, and help you with the streaming.

Our Bottom Line:

In general, it’s a rather odd production. In an ideal world, the two main plots would interweave with each being as powerful and engaging as the other, in their very different ways, before coming together in a satisfying climactic battle. This production feels rather unbalanced, as Hal and Falstaff’s scenes are absolutely excellent, probably the best I’ve ever seen, while Hotspur’s (to me at least) completely miss the mark.


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Our Review (****)

Of all of Shakespeare’s history plays, Henry IV Part I is the one I know best, so it seemed an ideal place to start with reviewing the Globe’s productions. The play tells two parallel stories: that of Hal, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Henry IV and another Harry, known as Hotspur, the son of the Earl of Northumberland and leader of the rebellion against the King. These two Harrys, both of an age (here, as usual, Shakespeare has taken some artistic licence- the real Hotspur was 23 years older than Prince Henry) could not be more different, as Hal spends his time drinking and (probably) whoring, while Hotspur gains a reputation as an excellent warrior in King Henry’s wars. The play has many changes of tone (at least, when done well), quickly shifting from riotous humour to moments of real pathos. So how well did this production convey this complex, but potentially very entertaining play?

Well, a minor quibble to start with, which has nothing to do with the stage production itself, but the editing for screen. Most Globe Player productions open with a few shots of different areas of the theatre, audience members chatting, musicians playing on stage, even actors backstage putting on their costumes. This helps to introduce us to the space and convey the atmosphere; in this one, however, we get a few seconds with three different shots all crammed onto the screen at the same time with weird angles which disorientate the eye, before one grows to fill the whole screen and Henry IV immediately appears and begins his “So shaken as we are, so wan with care…” speech. It’s confusing and distracting, and particularly frustrating as it could so easily have been done better. Anyway, once we’re into the play itself, we see that wooden scaffolding has been erected extending the balcony of the tiring house, and between the three entrances to the stage. This is quickly covered with a sheet bearing an enormous copy of Henry IV’s royal standard (which disappears again at the end of act one, to be replaced with a tattered sheet with a rather grim looking head during the Boar’s Head Tavern scenes). The arms of many noble houses are seen all around the theatre decorating the galleries and above the two side entrances. There is also a small triangular stage extension with two staircases leading down into the audience. It’s a simple set, but very appropriate.

In the first scene Oliver Cotton comes across as an unusually avuncular Henry IV, rather less grand and imposing than the typical interpretation of this character. It’s an interpretation that works and is executed very well, but personally I like my Henry IV more aloof, more bitter about his son’s behaviour, quicker to anger than this one. This side of the character comes out more in Act I Scene III, but here there is a major issue as he begins to cough uncontrollably (presumably this suggestion of illness is to help to build up to his death in Part II), which seriously compromises the ability to make out the lines. Combined with several lines being rattled off very quickly, there are several moments in this scene where it’s almost impossible to tell what the King is saying.

Act I Scene III also introduces Henry Percy, as he refuses to give his prisoners to the King without the ransom first being paid for his captured brother in law, Mortimer. Sam Crane, while clearly an excellent actor (he was hilarious as Roderigo in the Globe’s Othello) is, to me at least, utterly miscast at the hot-headed Hotspur. This character should be temperamental, unpredictable, violent, and thrilling to watch. He should also really be played with a Northern accent (typically Geordie), and while generally accent isn’t that important in Shakespeare, it certainly is here. Apart from the fact that we are told by other characters what he’s supposed to sound like (Lady Percy in part two tells us that he “[spoke] thick, which nature made his blemish”, and that this was such an iconic part of his public persona that those who followed him began to copy it), the genteel RP accent just doesn’t work with the character. I saw the RSC’s productions of both parts of Henry IV last autumn, and while various aspects of these productions were weaker, Hotspur, with his quick temper, frenetic energy and somehow very “Northern” look was excellent. The Globe’s Lady Percy, a small but potentially powerful role was also rather forgettable, and their relationship didn’t have the wonderful sexual chemistry and mix of hostility and affection that can potentially be brought out.


All of this said, there are some really wonderful elements to this production; Falstaff and Hal’s scenes, in particular. Roger Allam is a fantastic Falstaff,

Roger Allam as Falstaff Photo: John Haynes

Roger Allam as Falstaff
Photo: John Haynes

outranking, in my mind, even Anthony Sher in the RSC productions. He manages to glory in the debauchery and gluttony of the character, while still maintaining a strange sense of dignity and great intelligence. He and Jamie Parker play excellently off one another, mocking each other and constantly trying to outwit the other, while always keeping a sense of great affection between Hal and his surrogate father figure. Jamie Parker’s Hal is also excellent, spending all of Act I Scene II in a rather inebriated state, and reveling in the mocking of Francis (Anon, anon, Sir!) in one of my favourite scenes of the play before his sudden transformation as was looms. There are also some excellent close ups of him, which help us to see his transition from an irresponsible boy to a young man shouldering great responsibility, with Parker’s very sensitive expressions.

Act II Scene IV, in the Boar’s Head tavern, is hilarious, wonderfully riotous and chaotic. A particularly entertaining addition is the fight between a prostitute (Doll Tearsheet?) and customer, the shrieks of which continue below the stage through a lot of the dialogue until a surly looking barman with a club jumps down and yells “Shut up!!” followed by a loud thump and ominous silence. Falstaff’s tale of being robbed, and fighting off two, four, seven, nine, eleven men in buckram, and his playing at being the King, with a cushion for a crown, is also very funny, although here Shakespeare’s wonderful text does a lot of the work for the actors. The key moment of this scene comes with Falstaff’s speech, begging ‘the King’, “for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff… banish not him thy Harry’s company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world” and Hal’s reply “I do. I will.” Here the tone of the scene becomes suddenly sober, as Hal warns Falstaff that however much fun these antics may be, some day he will have to leave their games and take on the responsibility of being a Prince and then a King. This is, when done well, a very powerful moment, and a massive contrast from the behaviour of this character so far, and this production really does pull it off.



Henry.IV.2010.022 Editl

Warwick, John of Lancaster, Henry IV, Prince Hal, and Sir Walter Blunt await battle. Photo: John Haynes

The second half of the play is far less fun than the first, as the two sides prepare for battle- although meeting Mistress Quickly’s husband, who has no lines and is usually left off stage for the duration, is a fun addition. Falstaff’s wonderful speech about “honour” in Act V Scene I is played very simply, and is very powerful. Unfortunately, the stage fighting is not particularly convincing or dramatic in this act- perhaps the impact is lessened as we see it closer up with the camera, but as this is the only point at which the great rivals, Hotspur and Prince Hal meet, and most of their communication is swordplay, it would have been nice to see something a bit more inventive and exciting. It rather feels like it’s there because it needs to be to make sense, but they haven’t particularly taken the time to make the fighting a spectacle in itself. Given that so much of this production is full of movement and liveliness, this seems odd and rather lazy. The realism of the battle is also severely compromised as we can see the chests of the dead Blunt and Hotspur rise and fall distinctly. Again, this is probably a downside of camera close-ups, and of course actors have to breathe, but it is rather off-putting! Sam Crane also falls into the trap, warned against by John Barton in Playing Shakespeare (using the very same speech!) of trying to make it too naturalistic, so it really sounds like he’s dying, and in doing so loses the character’s final words.

The production ends, as always with the Globe, with a dance, which, as far as I can see looks like very good fun, with our dead characters bounding back onto the stage full of life, and the enmity between the rebels and the King’s forces forgotten as they laugh and cavort together. It’s not easy to tell exactly what’s happening here however, as again some weird editing has this section minimised down to a small box while the credits come up (which in every other Globe Player show scroll across as the audience leaves the theatre). Again, a minor quibble, but the dance and bows are as much a part of the show as the rest of it, and I would like to watch them properly, thank you very much editors.

In general, it’s a rather odd production. In an ideal world, the two main plots would interweave with each being as powerful and engaging as the other, in their very different ways, before coming together in a satisfying climactic battle. This production feels rather unbalanced, as Hal and Falstaff’s scenes are absolutely excellent, probably the best I’ve ever seen, while Hotspur’s (to me at least) completely miss the mark. I’m rather torn as to how many stars to give it- just counting the Hal subplot, it would be four or even five, but the rebellion storyline is really only worth three. I would still recommend watching it, and for any Henry IV plans it’s definitely a very good version of the play- but if you’re looking to see a great Hotspur, buy the bluray or DVD of the RSC production instead.

Caitlin Morris,

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