Reviewed by Russell Stake
The audience descends carefully into the half dark which envelops the tiered seating of The Space. Distant male voices sonorously chant ancient religious works. Looming from the darkness a steep staircase to a throne is flanked by dark panels pierced by occasional vertical slashes of blood red lighting or moonlit grids. A few unadorned dark platforms in the foreground serve as beds, prie dieu, battlegrounds. Pale drifts of smoke, or mist, or incense relieve the darkness.
Rob Croser & David Roach have created this ominous foreboding imagery as a perfect setting for Shakespeare's Royal Plays. Director Croser, using only the original lines of Shakespeare, adapted a very workable & intelligently constructed play from Richard II, Henry IV parts I & II, & Henry V. Comprehensive programme notes, as always with Independent, are a delight for the informed or the novice to explore or understand plot, character, history.
In this case Croser has worked his play in flashback from the young King Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt to Richard II & the tangled intrigues which took his throne, the guilt which followed his successor Henry IV and as consequence his heir Prince Hal.
Croser has, of necessity, a large skilled cast, many playing multiple roles, but outstanding are the three central to this wide canvas. David Roach brings Falstaff to us a rambunctious, roistering, unashamed braggart, always faintly tipsy carrying his bulk like a slightly off balance spinning top.His richly variable voice as roughly affectionate or demanding or wheedling & ultimately pitiable.
The Henry IV of Nick Buckland appears a man of reason sure of his purposes and direction, proud of his sons. Beneath these surface strengths, guilt, doubts, sadness, despair, and fear bring him slowly down. Buckland's de-construction from power to frail death is intensely sympathetic.
Will Cox continues his long run of splendid portrayals with Independent as Prince Hal. His Prince is a wild boy, a thieving whoring drunkard, a bawdy boy almost apprentice in vice to Falstaff.Arrogant & angry, disputing the demands of his father and advisors, his path to responsible manhood and the throne is slow & painful. Cox’s performance is a revelation. He removes & adds almost imperceptibly to the character throughout, revealing or obscuring with great subtlety.
Before Agincourt to his uncertain followers his final "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…" resounding, triumphant, urgent delivery "Cry God for Harry…." brings to a powerful conclusion this splendid production.