Review: Henry IV Part One, York Shakespeare Project, The Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York, in tandem with Part Two until August 15 (From York Press)
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Review: Henry IV Part One, York Shakespeare Project, The Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York, in tandem with Part Two until August 15
THE blood-red ribbons tied to the railings of the St Martin-cum-Gregory Church indicate that this deconsecrated church in Micklegate has come alive again.
Time was when rather more grim messages to the masses were posted on Micklegate, such as the severed head of Harry Hotspur stuck on the Bar.
Hotspur meets his fate once more on this York thoroughfare in York Shakespeare Project’s latest community production, a brace of history plays at the midway point of a 20-year mission to perform all of Shakespeare’s works in York.
Professional director Tom Cooper has undertaken, in his own words, a hugely ambitious project, presenting “two folk music-infused, site-specific productions in a 13th century church” never used previously for such an endeavour.
On the evidence of the first night of Part One, there is work still to be done to adapt to the contours and acoustics of a building steeped in history and oratory.
It is probably too late to cut scenes but three-and-a-quarter hours to be only half way through the story is far too long, and Cooper’s cast would have benefited from a tighter rein.
Simple improvements can be made: no king (Maurice Crichton’s Henry IV) should face the back at any stage; too many scenes fail to make use of the diagonal; actors would be better engaging with the audience’s eyes and not the floor; and Robin Sanger, normally so clear in his diction, needs to slow down his blustering Falstaff.
Furthermore, the revellers at the inn must desist from behaving like a manic canned-laughter factory, robbing Falstaff of any chance of timing his storytelling for the audience’s benefit.
As indicated by a dress code that spans the centuries, Cooper is seeking to emphasise how human traits repeat through the passing years.
Most effective is dressing Chris Laishley’s Hal as our present Prince Harry out on the town, while his behaviour gradually transforms him into the far more serious Prince William.
The house band and the folk-song incursions and a long scene of Welsh speaking further stretch out the running time, although a brief burst of rap was innovative.
And so it falls to Laishley and Toby Gordon’s Hotspur, a strutting cock of a 21st century anti-hero in black, to keep up the momentum: hard work for them, harder work for the audience.
Henry IV Part One, York Shakespeare Project, The Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York, in tandem with Part Two until August 15. Box office: 01904 623568.