Henry IV part 2 – August 2007


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Richard Twyman

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Thursday 2nd August 2007

This was a huge improvement on part 1 which we saw a couple of nights ago. The play starts with Rumour, played by Forbes Masson, who enters dressed as Bagot and dragging Richard’s coffin, which he opens. This releases Richard’s ghost, who wanders off and reappears occasionally. Rumour then tells us all about his work, making it clear that the stories Northumberland is about to hear are false. Sure enough, he hears the wrong story first, and there’s some posturing as the messengers try to make out their story is the accurate one. A third messenger has the right story, and Percy knows the worst. I found this a bit boring, and couldn’t always make out the lines, and the staging was still pretty static.

The next scene gives us John Falstaff checking on his urine test, complaining about his mate the Prince, complaining when he can’t get what he wants in the way of goods, and then being upbraided by the Lord Chief Justice (Richard Cordery). I was paying more attention this time to Richard’s performance, to see how his rehearsal process might affect it, and he certainly was paying attention all the time to what was happening on stage.

Falstaff pretends to be deaf, and there was lots of humour. David Warner really seems to have grown into the part. At the end of this long scene he sends Peto to deliver some letters, and take something to Ursula – for this he takes out a carrot – plenty of double entendres there.

Next the rebels plotting together – a long speech from the Archbishop, and much concern about the likely success of their actions. Then it’s a lovely scene where Mistress Quickly tries to arrest Falstaff over the money he owes her. Along comes the Lord Chief Justice, and hears her complaint. As well as denying her the money he owes her, Sir John is reneging on his promise to marry her, but it looks like she’ll forgive him if they do wed. This was a great performance from Maureen Beattie. Honest, respectable woman that she is, she can’t help flaunting herself at the Lord Chief Justice, showing off her tits, wiggling and pouting, all very “respectable”  but liable to be misinterpreted! The Lord Chief Justice sees past all Falstaff’s prevarication, and pushes him to make amends to Mistress Quickly, which he does with more promises, getting more money out of her all the time. Meanwhile news comes of the King’s army, and they head off to the wars.

Harry and Poins are next. Poins pushes the bed on, with Harry asleep on it, and with his finger on his lips, invites us to keep quiet. Then he pulls the cover off Harry, who reacts quickly. Their conversation clearly shows that Harry is beginning to adjust his thinking and his behaviour to reflect his own noble position more – a warning to the audience that he will be renouncing his former companions before long. Bardolph arrives with a letter from Falstaff, warning Hal not to be too friendly with Poins, as Poins wants Harry to marry his sister. Poins semi-denies this, and here I got the impression that he might well have been thinking about it. They decide to spy on Falstaff that night, disguised as tapsters.

Next Northumberland, his wife, and Hotspur’s wife enter. Despite his intention to join the rebels, Hotspur’s wife points out, at length, that he broke his oath when he failed to turn up to help his son, so he might as well fail these other people, of so much less worth than her dead husband. With his wife joining in the pleas, he decides to head for Scotland.

At the tavern, the tapsters are in the know about the Prince and Poins’ ruse, Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are the worse for wear, but Doll does at least feel better after throwing up (thankfully faked). Doll and Falstaff quarrel, and when Pistol is announced, Mistress Quickly refuses to let him in, saying she can’t abide “swaggerers”. Her hands are really shaking. Falstaff persuades her that Pistol is a gentle man, and well behaved, so she allows him in. Unfortunately, he’s as quarrelsome as they come (would any sane person actually believe what Falstaff tells them?), and with Doll having a go at him with a knife (they’ve all had too much to drink), he draws his sword. Mistress Quickly manages to calm him down a bit, though the way she strokes his sword wouldn’t normally have that effect on a man. Steve reckons it’s a good job he didn’t have a pistol, as it would have gone off!

Eventually the brawling gets too much, and Pistol is hit over the head and falls into the basement. Falstaff and Doll are getting on better now, and he talks to her of the Prince and Poins, insulting them. They reveal themselves – they’d only just arrived, with moustaches to disguise themselves – by shouting “Anon, anon, sir” when Sir John calls for more sack. Hal challenges Falstaff to worm his way out of the insults he’s just heard, which he does by saying he dispraised the Prince before wicked people so that they would not love him. Harry is testing him by asking whether each person there is wicked or not, and Falstaff’s just about managing OK, but then Peto comes with news of the gathering forces, and Hal realises he has to get to court. Falstaff is also called for, and off they all go.

Now King Henry graces us with his presence, and after sending off some letters, tells us all about insomnia. It’s much worse for kings, he reckons (why are so many powerful people such self-indulgent wimps?). Then the lords he wrote to turn up, as quick as if he’d texted them (impressive), and they discuss the situation briefly. Again, Henry is more caught up with how things have changed, and recognises that Richard II’s earlier prophecy about the split between him and Northumberland had some truth to it. Warwick puts things into perspective and helps to steady Henry’s resolve – altogether a calming influence. Obviously, Henry’s feeling the guilt, and this scene prepares us for his coming illness and death. I felt there was still some more to come here – not all of the “why can’t I get any sleep when all these ordinary people can” whinge came across clearly.

Now we had the interval, and during it, young Davy, servant to Justice Shallow, sets up the stage for the next scene in Gloucestershire. There’s a lot of funny business here – Matt Costain, Director of Rope Work, plays the part, and he needs a lot of gymnastic ability. He tried to pick up three folding stools, leaving each stool where it was while he went for the others, and of course they all fell over. Then he spent some time attaching bunting to the tower at the back. The first attachment point was in reach, but the second, round to the right, was too high, so he had to get a ladder. He wasn’t in quite the right position, so he shifted the ladder several times without getting off it, making it more and more precarious, until eventually it fell over, and left him clinging to the railing of the tower. There was a bit of audience participation here, as he signalled to those on the right-hand side to help him. Eventually one did, the ladder was restored, and the bunting was attached. Hooray! As he closed up the ladder, he reacted as if he’d caught a tender part of his anatomy in it – an old trick, but never let it be said we’re not easily pleased.

We had been looking forward to the next scene, Shallow and Silence, since this morning’s talk from Jonathan Bate, about Shakespeare and the law. He has an interesting theory on the go that Will may have spent some of his missing time in the Inns of Court, possibly even Clement’s Inn, but as he intends to publish, he didn’t want us to spread it too widely beforehand. Anyway, he read out a lot of the opening part of this scene, and very entertainingly, so that my appetite was whetted. I’ve often lost a lot of this dialogue and tended to regard Shallow and Silence as being on a par with Dogberry – you have to put up with them, but the more they can be cut the better. This time, I understood the lines much better, both from Jonathan’s reading, and from the performances.

After the two old men get through their reminiscences, or rather Shallow’s reminiscences as Silence lives up to his name for the most part, Falstaff arrives to enrol the men that Shallow has provided for the King’s army. Mouldy does indeed look pretty foul, and the reactions of the others suggest a lack of personal hygiene. Shadow is very white and ghost-like, and tends to faint easily, not the best constitution for a soldier, one would think. Wart is bent almost double, and Francis Feeble is as tasty a pantomime young man as one would wish to see (played by Katy Stephens). He’s also the only one who comes close to being courageous. Bullcalf is big and strong, and it looks like he’s the pick of the bunch, but once Falstaff and Shallow go in for dinner, the real transfer negotiations take place (isn’t that always the way?). Bullcalf and Mouldy bung Bardolph several pounds to avoid conscription, and amazingly enough Bardolph and Sir John keep faith with them, taking all the others instead. Shadow faints (again).

Falstaff tells Bardolph to give the new enlistees guns, which they take out of the chest they’ve brought with them. Bardolph gives Wart a rifle, and shows him how to shoulder arms, ending with bringing the gun to his middle front. When Wart tries it, apart from being a lot more shaky, he ends up banging the gun on the ground in front of him, which makes it fire! Bardolph takes the gun away again, and they troop off.

Falstaff promises to visit Justice Shallow again, and once left alone on stage proceeds to tell us how he plans to “fetch off these justices”. He’s upset with Shallow both for lying and for having done so well for himself despite being such a pathetic fellow at Clement’s Inn. This is the nastier side of Falstaff, and it comes across pretty well. (If I remember rightly, Davy removes the bunting at some point, possibly before, possibly after this speech.)

Now we see the rebels again, preparing their forces for war. Northumberland has sent his apologies, and news comes of the King’s forces led by his son John. The Duke of Westmoreland arrives, from Prince John, to ask what grievances the rebels have. They talk. And they talk. And they talk. Unlike the Henry VI’s, this isn’t martial banter, this is political manoeuvring. Both sides are attempting to take the moral high ground, and the language is quite dense. I certainly didn’t pick up all of it at the time, although I got the gist.

Finally, Westmoreland takes a list of the rebel’s complaints to the Prince, and they discuss whether they can trust his word or not. Of course, they can’t, but Hastings and the Archbishop seem to be the trusting sort. With the arrival of the Prince, declaring that he’ll satisfy their demands, peace appears to break out, but sadly the rebel troops disperse too quickly, and soon the Prince’s officers surround and arrest the rebel leaders. I notice the same level of sneakiness with both Falstaff and the Prince – effective strategies though they may be, I’m not keen on the lack of integrity on show. Also, I think some of the drinking lines were cut, as there seemed to be very little gap between the peace agreement and the arrests.

The next scene is a short one, designed, it would seem, mainly to remind us that now the battle is over, Sir John is heading back to Gloucestershire to tackle Justice Shallow. Falstaff comes across a wounded knight, and takes him prisoner, as he’s too injured to fight. The Prince and Westmoreland turn up, and the Prince chides Sir John for arriving so late to the party. Falstaff’s response is breathtakingly cheeky. The prisoner is led off to be executed with the rest of the captured rebels, and the Prince heads off to London to see his father, who is now sick. Left alone again, Falstaff rails against abstemious men, extolling the virtues of sherry sack, and swearing he would have all his sons, if he had any, learn to drink this magic liquid. Off he heads to see the Justice again.

Back in London, the King is in a wheelchair, and in his bedroom. Most of his sons are present, but not Harry. He warns young Clarence to keep well in with Hal when he succeeds, and act as a mediator to help prevent his excesses from damaging their relationships. He’s very worried about what will happen once he’s gone, and convinced that his son will not make a good king, although he is aware of some of his good qualities.

Warwick again puts in a more balanced view, stating that Hal is only finding out what goes on amongst the lower classes, but the king’s not persuaded. News of the victories arrives – Westmoreland tells the king of Prince John’s success, while another messenger informs us all that Northumberland and the Scots have been defeated by the Sheriff of Yorkshire. Despite the good news, the king swoons, and has to be helped to bed. Although he recovers a bit, he wants to be left alone to rest, so they exit. Prince Hal has just arrived, and decides to stay with his father. The crown is lying on a pillow to the right of the king – he fought hard to get it, and he’s not letting it out of his sight now!

I noticed as he was put on the bed that a few feathers drifted down to land on him. I wondered if it was planned, and now it was confirmed. After ruminating on the pressures of kingship (Elizabeth must have loved Will’s work – he’s always pointing out the hardships that royalty has to endure), Hal notices that a feather isn’t moving, and despite not having any medical training, jumps to the conclusion that dad’s snuffed it. What cheek! A few words of sorrow, and then he puts on the crown and runs off with it, though only to the next room, presumably to adjust to his newly-acquired status.

When the king wakes up, he calls for company, and on hearing that Hal is around, asks to see him. Nobody knows where he’s gone, and then the king spots the empty pillow! I could envisage alarms and sirens going off, security doors slamming shut, all based on King Henry’s rage at finding his son has prematurely taken the crown. Warwick, ever the calming influence, tells the king that Hal is next door, sobbing his heart out (bless).

Now for some of the biggest speeches in the play. Henry and Hal have a heart-to-heart – it’s a bit like Jerry Springer, but a bit more civilised. The King accuses Hal of all the things he’s worried about – that he’ll let all his drunken, criminal buddies have power when he’s King and ruin the state. Only he takes a lot longer to say it than that (46 lines). Hal then responds (39 lines) with one of the most grovelling apologies I’ve ever heard. Several thoughts struck me. One is how noble he suddenly sounds, another is that the performance by Geoffrey Streatfield is growing on me, and the other is that I’ve never really understood Hal’s motivation in seeming worse than he is to gain greater glory when he shows his true colours. I’m sure it makes sense to him, but so far it’s escaped me.

King Henry (43 lines) is so taken with Hal’s speech, that he’s reconciled to him on the spot, and sits him down on the bed for some fatherly advice on how to run the family firm. Basically, prevent civil strife at home by fighting wars abroad (why does that sound familiar?). Once done, he feels bad again, and asks to be taken to Jerusalem (the room, not the city) to die.

Back in Gloucestershire, Shallow is combining dealing with household affairs, insisting Falstaff stays for longer, and considering a plea from Davy to help a friend of his. As Davy is also sorting out the household affairs, it makes for a very confused scene. Again, it ends with Falstaff having another go at Shallow, privately, to us. This would be boring if it weren’t for the improved performance of David Warner as Falstaff – it was much more entertaining than Part 1.

With the King now dead, the new king’s brothers meet the Lord Chief Justice to tell him the news. All are convinced that the Lord Chief Justice is in for a hard time now that Hal has become King, as he had Hal committed to prison for striking him when he was acting with the King’s power and authority. However, Henry V enters less brashly than expected, and speaks gently to his brothers, assuring them they are all safe. He got a good laugh on the line “This is the English not the Turkish court”. He does challenge the Lord Chief Justice, true, but his response is so upstanding that either it reassures Hal, or it persuades him not to take revenge, and he confirms the Lord Chief Justice in his position, promising to be guided by him as by a father.

Back with Falstaff and the Justices, Davy comes on to spread a picnic for them. A pit had been prepared, and Davy produces a frying pan and starts to cook something – too far away to tell what. Various requests for wine go unanswered; Falstaff in particular appears to have an empty cup for a long while. Silence has obviously been at the sherry – he sings several songs, interrupting the dialogue, and then sinking back down on the bench at the back. All is jollity, and then Pistol arrives to announce the old King’s death and the crowning of Prince Hal as Henry V. They’re all convinced Falstaff is a made man, and rush off to London, where Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet have just been arrested. As the beadles take them away, Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly get in plenty of rich insults. Doll appears to be pregnant, but as the beadle observes, it’s only a cushion. It’s a short scene, presumably to allow others to regroup and change if need be, but also to flag up the coming rejection of Falstaff by the new King.

For the final scene, Falstaff and his entourage arrive from all corners, clambering onto the stage in their haste to become part of the power elite. Falstaff excuses his bedraggled state as showing how much he wanted to see Hal again, and Pistol brings the news of Doll’s arrest. They gather round the main stage, waiting for the procession from the coronation.

King Henry arrives, walking down the circular stairs in the tower, followed by the Lord Chief Justice and his family. He’s done up in a white suit with a cloak and the crown, looking very regal. He ignores Falstaff’s greetings, telling the Lord Chief Justice to talk to “that vain man”. Henry then makes it clear he is no longer going to involve himself in the life he led before, and all the people he knew from that time are banished from the court. He does show some kindness in granting them an allowance to avoid penury, and promising to reward them with positions as they earn them. Off he goes, leaving Falstaff’s crew totally undone. Sir John tries to put a brave face on it, by claiming the King will send for him in private – this was just the public “spin” – but Shallow’s not buying it. He’s lent Sir John a thousand pounds, and wants it back – he’ll be waiting even longer than Mistress Quickly, I reckon.

Finally, the Lord Chief Justice enters, and has them all sent to the Fleet Prison, while the Lord Chief Justice and Prince John discuss this satisfactory outcome (at least, it is for them). Prince John reckons they’ll soon be sending soldiers off to France – a little bird told him. Could he be right? We’ll have to wait till November to find out!

I enjoyed this performance a lot more than Part 1. The story came across better, the staging was more entertaining (especially Davy’s business with the bunting), and I heard almost every line clearly. I still feel there’s more to come, especially in the final scene with the reactions from Falstaff and his group. This Prince Hal certainly changes over the plays, but other performances have conveyed this even better for me, and I do hope this role comes on before November.

The performances I particularly liked were Julius D’Silva as Bardolph and Maureen Beattie as Mistress Quickly. Julius was part of the Spanish Golden Age season a few years back and it’s nice to see him return, although neither of us recognised him at first with all the makeup he wears. He certainly seems to fill the role very well. Maureen Beattie gets a lot of the humour out of her part, more so than I can remember from other productions, and she can scream invective as well as the best of them, not that Mistress Quickly gets many opportunities for that. Forbes Masson as Rumour gave us one of those threads through time that are integral to these productions, and there were many other enjoyable performances. In general, the play seemed better balanced and happier than Part 1 – roll on Henry V.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me