Henry IV Part 1 | MUSC

It may just be my newness to Australian Shakespeare, but it seems that the histories are staged far less than comedies or tragedies, whether it be due to a different cultural surrounding the strict social hierarchy, a weaker connection to the history, or a general preference for the more familiar plays. However, performances such as MUSC’s Henry IV show that even removed from their original context, the histories are powerful and engaging in their own right.

The play’s opening and ending cleverly ties itself in with its predecessor Richard II, highlighting Henry IV’s exhausted remorse, and is chilling in itself. Hal in contrast finds a delight and ease in deceit that still appears abhorrent to her mother, giving hints of the sly, charismatic warrior who will become King Henry V.

The intimate staging works well, drawing the audience into both the battles and the characters minds

Striking lighting leads to some exhilarating and dramatic battle scenes, along with some interesting effects during the robbery. While at times the dimmed lights made key moments difficult to see, in others the darkness highlighted the characters’ own tense uncertainty. And the costume department certainly has their work cut out for them with an amount of fake blood worthy of a tragedy. The intimate staging works well, drawing the audience into both the battles and the characters mind, though as someone at stage level in the front row some scenes in Mortimer’s Castle could get a little too intimate…though that’s less of a directorial or acting critique than it was my own awkwardness.

A strong cast is employed across the board. Hotspur is particularly powerful, equally embodying both his sarcasm and impulsive yet justified outrage. The relationship between him and Hal is also emphasised, showing the conflicted feelings regarding her mirror image. The comedic scenes are well played and highlight the easy closeness between Hal and Falstaff in comparison to her mother’s tense disappointment.

Sometimes longer sections of dialogue could be lost due to speed. But it was during these segments I often found myself drawn to the night’s Auslan interpreters. While my knowledge of the language is limited to being the child of an interpreter, I often found myself entranced by their energy and powerful expression. There’s been several international productions incorporating Auslan into the performance itself, notably between Hamlet and his father’s ghost, and I think it would be both an inclusive and fascinating avenue to follow.

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