Saturday, 7 June 2014

Ghosts of the Past In Stratford-Upon-Avon

Off to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Gregory Doran's production of Henry IV Part I, the play I studied for my O-level in days of yore and still one of my favourites.  First, though, a wander around town where the ghosts of the past loom as large as Hamlet's father's ghost on the battlements of Elsinore.  


  

One of our favourite games is 'What Would Shakespeare Have Seen?' and this time I spotted ... 


... the 14th century sanctuary knocker in the porch of Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised and buried ...  


... some graffiti with serifs from 1575 ... 


... sunlit cow parsley ... (He's got to have seen the sunlit cow parsley, right?) ... 


... the Garrick Inn (although apparently not a pub in Shakespeare's day) ...  
... and the ancestors of these swans. (Sorry, no bread for you today.)    


Here's another ghost (albeit not a very spectral one) from the past, Ms Angela Prior-Kimball, who recognised me as I shuffled through town despite the fact we hadn't seen each other since she graduated 31 years ago.   


 I suppose this must mean we've hardly aged at all ...    :-)



Then it was off the the theatre.  Here's the review I've written about the production for a couple of local journals.  


Henry IV Part I, National Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Shakespeare reveals a fascination for doubles in his plays, and in Henry IV Part I the audience is invited to compare the dissolute Prince Hal, future King Henry V, with another Henry, namely Hotspur, the honourable son of his father’s former friend, the Earl of Northumberland, who is now fomenting rebellion. 

Early in the play King Henry expresses sorrow that Northumberland is ‘father to so blest a son … who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride’ while ‘riot and dishonour stain the brow of my young Harry’, and for the play to work properly, we must see the development of Hal as he begins the process of breaking away from Falstaff’s negative influence to become the equal of Hotspur in valour on the battlefield and, later, the victor at Agincourt.    

The problem with this production lies not with Alex Hassell’s portrayal of Hal, which, aside from a rather flippant interpretation of the famous ‘I know you all’ soliloquy, is spot on, but Trevor White’s Hotspur, who, far from being an dutiful and heroic foil for Hal, is a maniacal liability.  He is almost cartoonish in his aggressive impetuosity, with the result that all the tenderness in the scenes with his witty and patient wife Kate is lost and you can’t help thinking that the King might want to reconsider his wish that some night-tripping fairy had swapped the infants at birth. 

Elsewhere, Antony Sher is a gloriously ebullient Falstaff whose assertion that his recruits are ‘food for powder’ as they limp and shuffle across the back of the stage, prompts a look of incredulous horror from Hal and reminds us of the ruthless and predatory side of the dishonourable knight’s nature.  Perhaps the better comparison in this production is that of the young prince and Old Jack.  I look forward to seeing Hal’s inevitable rejection of his companion in Henry IV Part II, which is being broadcast live at Cinema de Lux, Cabot Circus, Bristol on 18th June.    

















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