Henry IV Parts I and II, Theatre Royal, Bath

4.00

Flawless in word if not in action

At the heart of this year's Peter Hall season in Bath sits a work that the veteran director staged at the RSC almost 50 years ago. And this production, taking place on a versatile set by Simon Higlett, has all of his hallmarks.

It is brilliantly spoken – the language takes centre-stage and every pun, witticism and tongue-twisting insult is given its moment, no matter how much semaphore is required to translate the meaning today.

But if the language is consistently and metrically flawless the dramatic drive of the production is less so. There are inspired moments but rudderless half hours and Part I is by some way the stronger.

Desmond Barrit as Falstaff is a drunken dandy, tripping with a daintiness that belies his girth. He is at his best when declaiming to the audience but he lacks that essential Falstaffian spark. Barrit's Falstaff is little more than a winded clown – a Bottom – and it is hard to believe Hal would love this gormless drunkard.

Tom Mison, as Prince Hal, seems to recognise this and never looks fully at home in the fat knight's company. The scene in which he plays his father and pours insults on Falstaff is brilliantly executed by both actors. But it feels like an eruption of barely contained vitriol and rather suggests buried enmity than long friendship.

If Mison's Hal is two-faced and flighty, his foil – Harry "Hotspur" Percy – is a fire ball of anger. Ben Mansfield in the role stabs his lines out like daggers and, too great a talent to waste, he returns in Part II in the role of roaring drunk, Pistol. There is good work too from Edward Harrison as Hal's Puckish companion, Poins, and both David Yelland as King Henry and Robert East, as the rebellious Northumberland, make powerful statesmen.

The polished pearl of this double-headed production, though, is the battle scene at Shrewsbury at the end of Part I, when the two Harrys meet (in a fight smoothly choreographed by Kate Waters). Much of what comes before and afterwards feels like academic recitation. But in this scene, Hall allows drama to take precedence.

Part II is altogether flatter. We are presented with a series of vaudevillian set-pieces. The tavern scenes have very little humour and the speechifying becomes more staid. It is not until this play's closing moments, as Henry IV lies dying, that things liven up.

This is a curate's egg of a production: Hall is too in thrall to Shakespeare's text to release the joie de vivre so crucial to the comic scenes or to allow action equal billing with words. A solid, scholarly rendering.

**** / ***

To 13 August (01225 448844)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power