As a newcomer to Henry IV: Part 1 on stage, I had high hopes for 472’s production at the Keble O’Reilly – and it did not disappoint. Under the direction of Miranda Mackay, 472 have managed a skilful staging of Shakespeare’s classic.
Jonny Wiles was absolutely brilliant as the hopeless (yet somehow always lucky) drunk Falstaff, bringing to the character the perfect balance of charismatic faux-humbleness, bawdry humour and self-serving craftiness. Max Cadman also gave a stand-out performance as Hal, showing impressive versatility between hilarious, fast-moving scenes with Falstaff, Poins (Jack Doyle) and the crew to the quieter and extremely moving scenes with his father (Marcus Knight-Adams). Knight-Adams himself was a powerful presence as King Henry, and Chris Page as Hotspur shone in his scenes of indignant rage. Whether it be in the pub scenes as onlookers egging on fights, at scheming meetings, or at court with the king, every actor on stage was both highly engaged and engaging.
The whole production was very well put together. The costumes by Hanna Høibø were beautiful and perfectly suited to each character. There had also evidently been a lot of thought behind the movement in the play, which paid off especially in the pub scenes, where those on stage managed to create the feeling of a lively, bustling crowd. The fast-paced fight scenes were also brilliant, somehow appearing both smooth and realistic.
The oscillations in the text between comedy and serious history were well-handled. In one particularly notable moment, the audience was quickly sobered at Hal’s sudden turn to seriousness while the others laughed at Falstaff’s imitation of him with his father. And of course, in the final scenes the markedly different reactions to events on the battlefield provided moments of both extreme sadness and comedy, coming from Hal and Falstaff respectively.
There were a few areas in which I felt the Keble O’Reilly space was slightly underused. The smaller platform upon the main stage, for instance, was a little underwhelming (although used well by the actors), as was the castle scenery flat. What would have looked perfect in a smaller theatre looked dwarfed in the larger space, and it would also have been nice for sound to be utilised a little more. Having said this, in scenes of movement the space was used remarkably well, transforming easily from bawdy pub to battle scene and never feeling too large.
472 Productions has taken on a difficult play to make continuously interesting, and done just that. Every scene was unfailingly energetic, and as a whole this is a very successful reimagining of the text.