‘Henry IV Part 1, or Hotspur’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare
4 out of 5 stars
Henry IV, Part 1, Shakespeare's Globe 2019
© Tristram Kenton Michelle Terry (Hotspur)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Michelle Terry’s brilliant Hotspur makes ‘Henry IV Part 1’ the pick of the Globe’s new rep season

Michelle Terry leads the return of her Globe Ensemble from the front: the actor-artistic director’s all-guns-blazing take on rebel lord Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy is the clear highlight of her rep company’s second season.

Hotspur is usually interpreted as a noble idealist whose tragedy is that he’s more decent than the king he clashes with, but Terry pretty much goes the other way. Her Hotspur is an angry, sardonic young man whose main motives appear to be bloodlust and boredom. Sure, Terry’s going against the text a bit. But she does so dazzlingly. The tender scenes with Hotspur’s young wife Lady Percy are hysterically rewired into masterclasses in alpha male douchiness – Hotspur seems to be barely even listening to her as she waxes eloquent about her fears for him.

The overall effect is to unify the tone of a play that usually comes across as divided between the serious political bits, and the comedy bits where the young Prince Harry (Sarah Amankwah) bums around with his disreputable mentor Sir John Falstaff (Helen Schlesinger).

Instead, you’re never far from a laugh in a show that could borderline be described as ‘a romp’. Indeed, Terry is effortlessly funnier than anybody else: Amankwah and Schlesinger never really click. Without Terry, it would be a lot less good. But directors Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi do some good work here: there is a striking intro, in which the identically clad ensemble sing a stirring song while donning their costumes; in the second half there is an enjoyable ditty about a cat.

Spoiler alert: ‘Henry IV Part 1’ is also by far the best production in the rep season that’s comprised of this, ‘Henry IV Part 2’ and ‘Henry V’. More on the reasons for that elsewhere, but if you’re going to book one show from this season, make it this one.


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