The clock is put back. Already this season we have had Henry V as the star of England. Now he is once more Hal, that curiously cold fish who has to cope with one of Shakespeare's least persuasive speeches, the soliloquy that begins "I know you all."
Still, though I regret that we have not had the plays in order, it has to be a privilege to meet the first of the great twin brethren; the play in which the captains and the kings have the overwhelming competition of Falstaff.
We can praise the director, Terry Hands, for keeping the balance. As this swelling chronicle rises from the empty spaces of the stage, its thunders of court and battlefield are not to be put down by the Irregular Humorists.
Here I do have a grievance. Emrys James is a dominating actor, but I see no reason why Henry IV should be endowed with this blustering arrogance, this form of regal paranoia.
It is a calculated, intricate performance, but it is not Henry Bolingbroke. He remains for me the careworn figure of Randle Ayrton as he stood, long ago, under the scarlet canopy.
Mr. James seems to me to be in a permanent near-Welsh rage. Though he gains in dignity as the night proceeds, it is a reading difficult to accept.
In this production he is often, superfluously, a silent watchful shadow in the Boar's Head background. All at the tavern are in good heart. Brewster Mason's Falstaff, so well reputed, has mellowed richly into a portrait of breadth and wit that is never vulgarised. Falstaff has no trouble with those sometimes trying evolutions on the field of Shrewsbury.
Alan Howard takes Prince Hal in confident grace on the first lap of his journey towards kingship; and in the second half of the colloquy with his father he offers the night's best verse-speaking. Honour also to Griffith Jones's Glendower, George Baker's Worcester, and Mr. James himself, in the exchanges before battle.
Stuart Wilson is a strong, direct Hotspur; Mr. Hands has not insisted on the once-fashionable stammer. But I think the actor should watch his physical stance.
In brief, a production of some splendour, not yet matched to Henry V, but giving much hope for Part Two at midsummer.
Birmingham Post, 25.4.75.