‘Henry IV’ was empowered.
Merthyr Street Uniting Church was transported to the 1300s during Nash Theatre’s latest dramatic escapade. William Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’, the classic Shakespearian history play had everything from comedy, dramatics, war and a whole lot of beer, a perfect recipe for an enjoyable night at the theatre.
‘Henry IV’ follows the narrative of a family struggling to maintain their place on the throne. However, as King Henry IV lives his life keeping his enemies at bay, his prodigal son Prince Harry, or Hal, spends his time with the lower class of English society, robbing travellers and causing mischief. Conspiracies are hatched, families reunited and battles fought.
As in every classic Shakespearian play, the dialogue can be occasionally difficult to follow and, in a play that is as politically led as ‘Henry IV’, the story can easily be lost. The actors, led by director Jason Nash, did a commendable job of deciphering the script and added blocking which gave context. Some moments were more difficult to follow than others and it was these occasions where the emotional intent of the script was not fully communicated.
Meg Bennett as Henry Percy maintained energy throughout the production and, as a female, played a male role with intelligent physicality. While Bennett did a commendable job of saying her lines with conviction, the character occasionally came across as one-sided. As an actor, Bennett could have benefitted from using the script to drive her emotional journey. Some actors within the production tended to explode and present their lines angrily as opposed to using the nuance within the script to organically drive the emotion.
Hannah Martin as Prince Hal and Callum Campbell as Sir John Falstaff were the stand out performances of the evening, oozing professionalism and an impressive handle on the complex text. Martin portrayed a male role, however, this presentation was organic. Martin did not simply display an archetypal male but made her posture, voice and movement natural. Her emotion was genuine, allowing the audience to connect to the estranged heir, trying to find his way to the throne.
Campbell had exceptional comic timing and provided good reprieve within the dramatic script. While some characters fell into a pantomime comedic style, Campbell created the comedic moments organically without the need for over-acting. While the fat suit looked a little unnatural, it was well utilised by Campbell and proved to be fairly integral to the comedic moments for the character.
Set, lighting and costuming were fairly simple yet effective. There were lengthy blackouts where set changes took place, however, these were cleverly masked by spreading a low blue wash over the stage and having a flurry of actors move the set. Some changes were smoother than others, with certain set pieces being placed in the wrong location and having to be moved several times.
Unfortunately, male actors are generally difficult to cast for these types of productions, however, director Jason Nash navigated this issue well. While in Shakespeare’s time males were required to play female roles, the situation is now ironically reversed out of necessity.
Considering the current political and societal climate, it was interesting as an audience member to see such iconic male roles being played by females. While some portrayals were more believable and effective than others, the audience was alerted to just how far society has come in equalizing gender roles, and how much work still needs to be done.
‘Henry IV’ runs until Saturday, 3 August 2019. Book your tickets at Nash Theatre’s Website.