Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses plays have been described as a poet’s meditation on history. However, this authoritative interpretation by Peter Hall and his 21-strong company of the life and times of the most troubled of the Lancaster kings also examines, at least in Part 1, a clutch of individual characters conceived on the grand scale.
A scene from Henry IV Part 1, at the Theatre Royal Bath.
Hall keeps the historical chronicle of rebellion, involving a great deal of galloping from castle to castle, sensibly under control, allowing David Yelland’s troubled usurper Henry IV and Ben Mansfield’s rebel with a cause Hotspur to underline the moral issues involved as feudal England gives way to all embracing monarchy.
More than anything, this is the first of Shakespeare’s histories to make extensive use of the techniques of comedy, and here Desmond Barrit’s splendidly bombastic Lord of Misrule Falstaff and his comrades make sure the humorous diversions also reflect and extend the concerns of the main plot. This is particularly so as we see the first signs of Tom Mison’s playboy Prince Hal breaking away from his self-destructive relationship with Falstaff as he begins to find the sensitivity of the man destined to become Henry V.
Both Mison and Mansfield are particularly effective in the stunningly staged Battle of Shrewsbury scene, and the air of constant threat to the monarchy is powerfully driven home by, among others, Robert East, who doubles Northumberland with Owen Glendower, and Philip Voss as a noble Worcester.