Review: Henry IV Part Two, York Shakespeare Project, The Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York (From York Press)
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Review: Henry IV Part Two, York Shakespeare Project, The Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York
THE blood-red ribbons tied to the railings of the medieval Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory find their match at the finale to this Shakespeare marathon. Chris Laishley’s Hal walks through a stream of ribbons, hoisted high like a chandelier, to herald his coronation as Henry V.
It has been a long journey for Hal, cast and audience alike, six hours in all, under the direction of Tom Cooper, who rightly described his “folk music-infused, site-specific” renditions of Shakespeare’s interlocked history plays as “hugely ambitious”.
Today and tomorrow offers the chance to see Parts One And Two in a single day, subject to ticket availability, and the weekend double bills are the best way to experience the full flavour of Cooper’s somewhat busy interpretation flooding through.
His dual production takes the history plays beyond mere history, not least in his decision to marry clothing to the character or scene. And so, for example, in Part One, Laishley’s Hal is a doppelganger for 21st Century Prince Harry in his jacket, jeans and taste for nights out with the lads; Toby Gordon’s hot-headed Hotspur comes on like some blockbuster action (anti-)hero; and battle scenes are seriously hardcore medieval.
In Part Two, the pastoral idyll of Gloucester prompts Cooper to replicate the tank-top look of The Darling Buds Of May for Jamie Searle’s bucolic Justice of the Peace, Shallow, and Harold Mozley’s Silence, whose wobbly arrival on a bike echoes John Major’s evocation of England.
Toby Gordon pops up again, now torn from a Mills and Boon novel as Peter Bullcalf, a country-bumpkin hunk stripped to the waist and carrying a bale as if it were as light as a feather.
Searle, Mozley and Gordon’s performances are among those that tilt the balance towards comedy in Part Two. So too, of course, do Robin Sanger’s newly gentrified, gout-afflicted Sir John Falstaff and Rebecca Stafford’s prostitute, Doll Tearsheet, so redolent of a bawdy Thomas Rowlandson caricature, although prone to rush her words.
Yet the grave, higher matters of Henry IV’s failing health and Hal’s rites of passage to the throne are given due weight by Maurice Crichton’s ailing king and Laishley’s Hal. A welcome stillness and rising intensity mark their father-and-son head to heads, and the symbolism of Henry IV holding a candle in a church is one of the most striking images of all.
York’s own past plays its part in Part Two, and consequently the machinations of Jeremy Muldowney’s Richard Scroop, Archbishop of York, echo through the church walls in a city whose motto is “Living with History”.
Cooper’s Part Two is better than Part One, the folk music more effective in the background, the performances more expansive, although the comedy could crank up the Carry On lust and the second half would have benefited from tighter editing.
Henry IV Part Two, York Shakespeare Project, The Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York. Performances: today and tomorrow, Part One, 2pm; Part Two, 7.15pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.