THEATRE Henry IV, Parts I&II English Touring Theatre

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The Independent Culture
Father and son in real life, Timothy and Sam West are currently playing Falstaff and Hal in Stephen Unwin's English Touring Theatre production of Henry IV, Parts I and II . These plays - with their extraordinary variety of moods and modes and their panoramic grasp of an England moving through civil strife to unity behind a new young king - are profoundly preoccupied by the father-son relationship. Indeed, Hal's gradual development from truanting Prince of Wales to dutiful Henry V can be seen, in part, as a process of trying out alternative father-figures against the background of an anguished communication break-down with his natural father, Henry IV.

Falstaff, the fat, incorrigible lord of misrule, is in no danger of being confused with Laurence van der Post or Mountbatten, but Hal comes under his influence as the son he never had. How does it affect our response to the play and to Unwin's production that here Hal is played by the son that Timothy West did have? It certainly adds an ironic edge to the scene where Falstaff sits on a mock throne, with a cushion on his head, pretending to be Henry IV and puts Hal through a fanciful dress rehearsal of the paternal dressing-down he can expect when he goes home. But the frisson- count is, in general, rather low, because the stage relationship between the Wests proves to be oddly lacking in intimacy and charge.

Very impressive in certain areas of the role, a squeakily well-groomed Sam West looks as though he's never had a hangover in his life and that he can't have put more than a big toe into the dissolute delights of Eastcheap. There is, admittedly, a cold calculating side to Hal that rationalises this slumming it with the boozy bums as part of a canny, private game plan. But West's Hal so little disguises the fact that he's one of nature's head boys that you wonder how his low-life cronies ever came to trust him in the first place.

Correspondingly, Timothy West's Falstaff never communicates the sense of being someone who needs a son. "If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack," declares the fat knight in Part II. It's a characteristic joke, but when Robert Stephens gave his brilliantly dark, Rembrandtesque Falstaff, there was a catch in his voice on that "thousand sons" and suddenly you saw both his intermittent bleak awareness of the ways in which he had wasted his life and his realisation, deep down, that his days with his adoptive son were numbered.

This dimension is missing from Timothy West's performance that is, however, full of exquisitely conceived and executed comic touches and unexpected but convincing line readings. He begins the famous "honour" speech splendidly. "Well, honour pricks me on," he announces with all the enthusiasm of someone wearily muttering that "there's no rest for the wicked". True to his word, he trudges offstage to war, only to come back two seconds later, honour evidently unable to prick him on further than the wings. But the performance adds up to the sum of less than its parts. "Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world": with great Falstaffs you remember that line, when the final public rejection comes, and feel that there's still a now-painful element of truth in it. You're not inclined to think back to it here.

Paterson Joseph doubles as a winningly immature fired up, somewhat goofbally Hotspur and as a manically fantastical Pistol, who is all fake hispano- Italian accent and hothead poses purloined from plays. Gary Waldhorn, though, gives a gruffly one-dimensional performance in the title role. His scenes with his son Hal don't take you very far into the possibly psychological (as opposed to moral) reasons for their mutual misunderstanding - to what extent, say, Henry's attitude is the displacement of an understandable self-dislike. One isn't asking for the East of Eden oedipal orgy that one RSC production famously turned into. But, particularly given the casting here, it would be good to have a bit more digging in the father-son department. Lucidity this production already has and some beautifully managed shifts of mood: what it needs is electricity.

Barclays Stage Partners touring information line: 0171-221 7883

Paul Taylor