Stratford is back to normal Shakespeare

The good news is that simplicity has returned to Stratford-upon-Avon. And with simplicity, truth. And with truth, of course, credibility. The Terry Hands production of Henry IV Part One boasts not a single gimmick.

No one wears modern dress. No one invents new lines.

In its centenary year the Royal Shakespeare Theatre honours its past by honouring this text.

On a stage bare, except for two high galleries on each side and a rough trestle for a throne, Alan Howard's extraordinary Prince Hal seeks his identity by turning potman with Falstaff down at Eastcheap - or, alternatively, by entering the royal court and trying on the role of chivalric valour.


At first he suggests an invalid, almost a neurotic - almost, being so limp and shabby, an Aguecheek. His curious voice, at once nasal and throaty, like a frog with a cold, never loses an edge of cruelty, or his blue eye its disdain.

In the tavern he seems bored and desperate, playing Falstaff's games half-heartedly and only coming to life to turn white when war is mentioned, and to turn savage when the fat knight asks not to be banished.

As Falstaff, Brewster Mason has the advantage of being naturally a huge hill of flesh and is blessed with a heart-warming smile.

For the rest, the conspirators and the battle are stirringly presented. Emrys James's ingrate and cankered King springs the plot superbly with his rasping arrogance and there are eye-catching performances by Trevor Peacock (Poins) and George Baker (Worcester).

I have to mention a weak Hotspur from Stuart Wilson, all huff and puff with no feel for the character, but in the main this is a distinguished revival.

John Barber

Daily Telegraph, 25.4.75.


Playing Shakespeare/Henry IV Part I