Theatre review – Henry IV part 1

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“You Starvelling, you eel skin, you dried neats tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock fish – O for breath to utter what is like thee – you tailors yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck.”

Just one of the many hilarious insults thrown between Prince Hal (son of Henry IV) and Sir John Falstaff in bawdy, affectionate banter in William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1, writes Penny Bristow.

Richard II was dead and the Henry IV (Bolingbroke) reigned and was keen to go to the Holy Land and Crusades, probably to ease his conscience for de-throning Richard, but Henry has troubles at home with the nobles who helped him get to the throne. There is rebellion looming with Wales and Scotland led by Hotspur (son of the Earl of Northumberland) who supports Edmund Mortimer’s claim to the throne.

Meanwhile, Henry’s son Prince Hal (played by Alex Hassell), much to the disgust of his father is living it up in Eastcheap in Mistress Quickly’s tavern, keeping company with prostitutes and robbers, and his good friend Ned Poins, but it is Hal’s relationship with the surrogate father figure, the larger than life drunkard Sir John Falstaff, that brings the otherwise very tame play much hilarity.

The rebellion brings Hal to his senses and back to his father’s side, The King’s army meets the rebels at Shrewsbury and Prince Hal discards his frivolous behaviour for a time and vows to defeat Hotspur.

For the Royal Shakespeare Company, performed at The Swan at Stratford Upon Avon, I found the setting very predictable. However, the performances by Alex Hassell (Prince Hal), Anthony Sher (Sir John Falstaff) and Trevor White (Hotspur) were outstanding. Hassell and Sher, although very very funny, also showed a tenderness and loyal relationship underneath the slapstick fun. Trevor White’s portrayal of Hotspur was full on anger teetering on madness – brilliant.

The Royal Shakespeare Company will be screening live Henry IV part 2 from Stratford Upon Avon at South Holland Centre on Friday, June 20.