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“Intense and enjoyable to watch”

Richard II has been deposed and Henry Bolingbroke is on the throne, but not free from troubles. He cannot wage the crusade he wants to. His son, Prince Hal, is living with drunks and thieves in a manner unfitting for a crown prince, and his former allies are plotting against him. Four Seven Two’s production of Henry IV examined the conflicts of family, loyalty, and politics.

Max Cadman, as Prince Hal, capturing the light-hearted playfulness of a man enjoying his youth, but adopting a more serious tone as the play went on, and he began to take on some of the responsibilities of being crown prince. Jonny Wiles was a very good Falstaff, winning many laughs for his delivery, physicality and responses to the actors around him. Chris Page was a forceful if slightly wooden Hotspur, but his death scene performance made his character far more sympathetic . Marcus Knight-Adams’ King Henry was steely and appropriately threatening. From the ensemble, I particularly liked Ben Thorne’s speech as Worcester denouncing Henry for his betrayal, Jack Doyle’s camp and fun-loving Poins, and Meg Harrington’s beautiful singing in Welsh as Lady Mortimer.

The direction by Miranda Mackay was impressive, as the changes between comic and serious were well effected, and the energy given to all the scenes suited what was happening. However, considering that the production chose to set up the stage in thrust, there could have been more attention paid to the sides of the stage — the tavern scene in particular seemed to use only the very front of the stage. The fight scenes were well choreographed. Those that established the battle seemed a bit hurried, as actors ran on, fought a few seconds, and ran off again, but the more important ones between two characters looked especially brutal and effective.

The set, designed by Olive McAndrew and Laura de Lisle, was minimal, composed mostly of tables and barrels, but the arches of Westminster were permanently in the background, reminding the audience of what was at stake. The costuming was well done, each faction looking a little different, but also consistently true to the period.  Falstaff’s makeup was very well done — his grey beard and hair were particularly believable.

The technical side of the play was designed well, and I especially liked the lighting in the battles, and the effect that made the voices in Westminster really resound. It could have been improved by more of the lighting transitions being cued on time, and the music at scene changes being loud enough to distinguish from a low murmur.

Henry IV is a play that was not familiar to me, but Four Seven Two’s interpretation made it immediately engaging and easy to follow. The three-hour run time may be hefty, but the performance is one that is intense, keeps on moving, and is very enjoyable to watch.

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