‘Henry IV Part 2, or Falstaff’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare
2 out of 5 stars
Henry IV Part 2, Shakespeare's Globe, 2019
© Tristram Kenton Helen Schlesinger (Falstaff)

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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After Globe’s excellent production of ‘Part 1’, this ‘Henry IV Part 2’ feels like a straight-to-video sequel

Oh dear. If ‘Henry IV Part 1’ felt like vindication for the Globe Ensemble rep company, then ‘Henry IV Part 2’… well, it’s just not very good.

Part of the reason for this is that ‘Henry IV Part 2’ isn’t exactly Shakespeare bringing his A-game. The most charitable way of looking at the plot is as a series of short stories vaguely linking ‘Henry IV Part 1’ and ‘Henry V’. It has the air of ephemera to it.

The job of keeping the show on the road falls to the actor playing the dissolute knight Sir John Falstaff, who has the biggest role and most coherent character arc. That the fine and funny Helen Schlesinger doesn’t carry it off is unfortunate.

Her performance kind of channels Eddie from ‘Ab Fab’, which isn’t a terrible reading of Falstaff. But maybe it needs the full-on Patsy treatment to really connect. Schlesinger gets laughs but they’re usually for audience interactions and unscripted quips. She never really feels at ease with the script. And, as in ‘Part 1’, she lacks chemistry with Sarah Amankwah’s reserved Prince Hal – it’s meant to be a poignant moment when the prince ascends to the throne and rejects his old friend, but here it feels profoundly unmomentous.

The elephant not in the room here is Michelle Terry. Her brilliant performance as Hotspur in ‘Part 1’ more or less singlehandedly makes that production. Although Globe Ensemble directors Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi seem a bit more on top of things than they did last year, there’s still a sense that their process mostly involves making sure the actors are happy and hoping that a few good performances will get them over the finish line in lieu of an actual structured take on the play. They have emphatically failed to do that with ‘Henry IV Part 2’, which basically feels like two-and-a-half-hours of outtakes.

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