Part I ★★★★
Part II ★★★
Centrepiece of his Bath season this year are Peter Hall’s productions (with associate directors Richard Beecham on Part I and Cordelia Monsey on Part II]) of Shakespeare’s historical masterpiece Henry IV.
It can be a complex experience for newcomers, the two-parter being, in modern terms, both sequel to Richard II and prequel to Henry V.
Luckily clarity of thought is a particular strength of the verse-speaking, nowhere more than in David Yelland’s Henry IV. It’s a thankless part, with much self-examination but little action. Yelland, striding on with confidence, and later walking wearily off through the same central doorway, charts Henry’s mind through expert shaping of the verse.
As Hal’s substitute father-figure, Desmond Barritt’s Falstaff relies on character more than mannerism. The result is often funny, but he remains sympathetic when weariness overtakes him too in the second play, though the final rejection by Hal is underplayed in Hall’s production.
It’s a moment signalled from the start. Tom Mison’s Hal is slightly forced at times but evidently conscious of what he’s doing; even then royalty on the razzle stepped back from anything a tabloid ballad-monger might get their teeth into.
There’s careful detail in the less celebrated scenes – the Welsh meeting of discontents is both funny and touching. That’s in Part I, which is the one to see if you have to choose. The second part is famously more downbeat as a play. Here it often seems more perfunctory and generalised as a production.
Thankfully, though, Yelland and Barritt are as good as ever - it really is fathers’ day.
- Timothy Ramsden