Henry IV Part II review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘meandering and lacking in pathos’
Sequels rarely live up to the originals and, unfortunately, that’s the case with the second production in Michelle Terry’s 2019 summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe. Performed by the Globe’s new ensemble company and overseen once again by directors Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi, the production never recovers from the loss of Terry’s galvanic presence as Hotspur.
The play picks up where the first part left off, with Henry’s health in decline and Prince Hal preparing to take the throne. But, in marked contrast to the first part, it feels shapeless and baggy, lacking in momentum. To some degree, that’s the nature of the play – the first half chiefly consists of mucking about in taverns – but it goes deeper than that.
Jonathan Broadbent’s Mistress Quickly gets more stage time, which is a plus – he’s funny and warm without ever feeling caricatured. There’s a lot more Falstaff too (this part is subtitled Falstaff) and, as in Part I, Helen Schlesinger swaggers around the Globe stage in saggy mustard-yellow breeches with her shirt sleeves flapping. She cheekily sings a few snatches from Hamilton and is at her best when convening directly with the pit – or nicking their drinks. But her performance never quite captures the grotesque appeal and sack-bloated bombast of the character.
As Henry, Philip Arditti is more restrained. Doubling as a coquettish Mistress Doll in the tavern scenes, he pointedly wipes off his pink lipstick to play the ailing king. Given how much brutal usurping there is in the history plays, this handing down of the crown from father to son is suitably moving.
Hal’s relationship with the other influential figure in his life is less successful. As Hal, Sarah Amankwah is a performer of presence; bright and vibrant, she speaks her lines with grace, power and clarity, but something vital is missing in the friendship between Hal and Falstaff. The moment when Hal rejects his old drinking buddy and surrogate father should be one of the key emotional and dramatic scenes of the play, but here its impact is lessened. There’s an absence of pathos.
The production also highlights some of the other problems of the collaborative model; it feels in need of a guiding hand, it meanders, and things that you suspect are supposed to raise a laugh fall flat (the exception being Stefan Donnelly’s turn as a squiffy Justice Silence). Some of the performances feel more suited to the space than others. It gets a bit shouty at times. This all combines to end up making the production feel like the theatrical equivalent of a filler episode, one you could easily skip.
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