THEATRE REVIEW: Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 & 2) & Henry V

WORTH A LOOK: *****

WHERE: Barbican

WHEN: 22/1

The Royal Shakespeare Company is marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death  with this cycle of plays before an international tour.

We weren’t too keen on Ben Whishaw’s Richard II in the BBC’s recent and acclaimed Hollow Crown: too fey and asexual. Former Doctor Who and Broadchurch star Tennant is camp here and as ridiculous but not quite convinced when the Duke of Aumerle (Sam Marks) kisses him full on the lips.

We enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at this venue last year and, although this is considerably less lavishly staged, it is far more compelling despite being a lesser work.

Performing these four plays in a cycle (as the Hollow Crown did in 2014) might not be an original idea but promises much. We’ll be reporting from the next three plays in the cycle featuring Antony Sher and monsta nominee Alex Hassell in this article throughout this weekend.

HENRY IV (part 1): ****

HENRY IV (part 2): ****

WHEN: 23/1

One of our favourite plays last year was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Death of a Salesman (Noel Coward Theatre) which starred three of the leads here.

Antony Sher is a memorable Falstaff bumping bellies at one point with a cast colleague and even interacting with an audience member during a bawdy tale at tonight’s last night. Alex Hassell is a physical Prince Hal, appearing first in his underwear from under his bed covers with a prostitute. Best friend Ned Poins (Sam Marks, mentioned above) provides Hal’s endearing bromance.

Both productions are played very much for laughs until Falstaff’s final embarrassment at the hands of the newly-crowned king. Not quite the star power of Tennant’s Richard II then but sterling work all round.

HENRY V: ****1/2

Game of Thrones‘ Oliver Ford Davies plays the chorus here in modern-day clothes and is having much fun updating the audience with a wink on proceedings.

Hassell’s muscular king is effective when donning disguise and visiting his men pre-Agincourt but much more endearing when attempting to woo the beautiful French princess who struggles less with her English as the courtship proceeds.

Four successive Shakespeare plays in three days proved quite the endurance test but hugely satisfying. Speaking to RSC veterans of such cycles, it’s not uncommon to see even more plays – including these three – over four days.

Look out for the next Hollow Crown on the BBC later this year, Russell T Davies’ take on Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Maxine Peake and something special via Sir Ian McKellen at the BFI next month.

Happy death anniversary Mr Shakespeare!

  • International tour tickets here.
  • Picture via Facebook (David Tennant as Richard II) courtesy Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham

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