Saturday, September 28, 2013


I haven't done any Shakespeare here, but the "Great Performances" broadcast of Henry IV Part One, in their "Hollow Crown" series (the second quartet of history plays, Richard II through Henry V) prompts a brief and rueful note.

This production does neither my nom de plume nor us any favors. Simon Russell Beale (as the corpulent knight) and director Robert Goold have drained most of the energy and joy from this most exuberant figure in world literature. No longer witty in himself, he is barely the cause that wit is in other men.

Perhaps they decided that there was no way to outdo Orson Welles for sympathetic theatricality, and sought to go small. Perhaps they were single-mindedly focused on the titular kings of these plays, and needed to reduce Falstaff to a bit player in order to let Hal own the action. Whatever their motivation, however, the result is neither the play nor the great improvisatory genius Shakespeare wrote. We get instead a nervous, petty, plangent hanger-on, more fearfully introspective than expansive and free. This is the story as it might have been dramatized by flacks for the shape-shifting political animal Henry V, not by sweet, kind, true, valiant and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff. 

They have banished from Harry's and our company the Life Force of Eastcheap... and so have banished all the world.

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