Henry IV (parts 1 & 2)

Performed at the Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate
Thursday 29th July – Sunday 15th August 2010.

In summer 2010, York Shakespeare Project produced two plays – Henry IV parts 1 and 2 – in an atmospheric York church, one of the YSP’s most ambitious projects to date.

Telling the story of the young Henry V and his rise to the throne, the Henry IV plays provide some of Shakespeare’s most affecting and well-crafted work, slipping easily between the history and king-making of the court and the jokes and bawdiness of England’s seedy taverns.

King Henry IV Maurice Crichton
Mortimer/Gower/Harcourt/Clarence Matthew Wignall
Worcester/Lord Chief Justice Ben Sawyer
Hotspur/Bullcalf/Snare/Morton Toby Gordon
Glendower/Warwick/Mouldy Sam Valentine
Douglas/Bardoll/Hastings Damien Freddi
Westmoreland/Sherriff Jon Adams
Mistress Quickly Helen Wilson
Doll Tearsheet Rebecca Stafford
Lady Mortimer/Falstaff’s Page Esme Wise
Lord Northumberland/Shadow Nick Jones
Lady Northumberland/Wart Jane Collis
Shallow/Pub Drinker Jamie Searle
Lady Percy Ella Dolan
Surrey/Silence/Man in Pub Harold Mozley
Lord Bardolph/Vernon/Pub Drinker Andy Love
Walter Blunt/Francis/Gloucester David Malinsky
Poins/Mowbray/Pistol Daniel Wilmot
John of Lancaster/Peto/Fan/Feeble Gareth Lewis
Falstaff Robin Sanger
Prince Hal Chris Laishley
Scroop/Pub Drinker Jeremy Muldowney

York Press interview with director Tom Cooper

HARRY Hotspur’s head was stuck on Micklegate Bar after the Battle of Shrewsbury, only a stone’s throw away from where Tom Cooper will stage Henry IV Part One and Two at St Martin-cum-Gregory Church from Thursday.

The history in Shakespeare’s history plays will come alive when staged in the city of York, a fact not lost on Tom, a University of York graduate, who is directing a York Shakespeare Project community play for the first time after his good deeds for Opera North and other companies over the past ten years.

“The fact that the stage is above graves and the cast will be walking on tombstones is in some way fitting for history plays,” he says, delighted at the first ever opportunity to use this 13th century, disused church as a theatre space.

“We’re making use of the church as we found it: the uneven pillars, the steps, the altar rail; the stained-glass windows; the sunken wood panels behind the altar, with the words of The Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments and The Creed.”

In the past, Tom has directed two plays at a ruined monastery near Rapallo, Genoa, and a site-specific production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the formal gardens at Blenheim Palace, but staging history plays in a deconsecrated church is different again.

“It’s a hugely ambitious project,” he acknowledges. “We’re performing in a previously unused location with half the cast entirely new to the Yorkshire Shakespeare Project.

“We auditioned 60 people, and it was a case of picking the best from those I saw, choosing 22 and then using doubling to cover all the roles.”

The brace of plays presents a multitude of challenges for the actors. “What’s great about these plays is that the theatrical genres keep changing. They’re history plays but they also follow a tragic arc; there’s the tragedy of Falstaff and his eventual rejection by Hal, so you see his tragic flaw and slow downfall and it’s the same with the downfall of Henry,” says Tom.

In addition, comedy is writ large in the character of Falstaff, and the second play takes on a pastoral quality when it moves to Gloucestershire.

Consequently, to match this diversity, the look of Tom’s production is deliberately a mixture. “Shakespeare plays fast and loose with time as he tells a medieval story using Renaissance language, and audiences are going to filter it through 21st century ears and eyes, so you already have three periods at work,” he says.

“It strikes me that Shakespeare isn’t interested in historical authenticity; he makes things up to tell a good story, and because Shakespeare has done that, we’re at liberty to do that as well. We’ve given the battles a medieval feel as they’re written that way; we’ve given the palace scenes a kind of Edwardian feel; and the pub scenes feel like the Seventies or Eighties…maybe!

“The Gloucestershire scenes could be England before the First World War: bicycle clips and evensong and John Major’s cricket on the village green.”

Inevitably too, links can be made between past and present. “I’m really wary of the word ‘relevance’, but it’s interesting to compare scenes in the play with what’s happening now, like Hal exploiting his connections with Hal brings to mind Sarah Ferguson selling her royal connections to the News Of The World…or trying to!” says Tom.

Half way through the York Shakespeare Project’s 20-year plan to present all the Bard’s works, Henry IV Parts One and Two could be the most memorable productions yet.

York Shakespeare Project’s Henry IV Parts One and Two runs at the Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York, from Thursday to August 15.

York Press Review, by Charles Hutchinson

THE blood-red ribbons tied to the railings of the St Martin-cum-Gregory Church indicate that this deconsecrated church in Micklegate has come alive again. Time was when rather more grim messages to the masses were posted on Micklegate, such as the severed head of Harry Hotspur stuck on the Bar.

Hotspur meets his fate once more on this York thoroughfare in York Shakespeare Project’s latest community production, a brace of history plays at the midway point of a 20-year mission to perform all of Shakespeare’s works in York.

Professional director Tom Cooper has undertaken, in his own words, a hugely ambitious project, presenting “two folk music-infused, site-specific productions in a 13th century church” never used previously for such an endeavour. On the evidence of the first night of Part One, there is work still to be done to adapt to the contours and acoustics of a building steeped in history and oratory.

It is probably too late to cut scenes but three-and-a-quarter hours to be only half way through the story is far too long, and Cooper’s cast would have benefited from a tighter rein. Simple improvements can be made: no king (Maurice Crichton’s Henry IV) should face the back at any stage; too many scenes fail to make use of the diagonal; actors would be better engaging with the audience’s eyes and not the floor; and Robin Sanger, normally so clear in his diction, needs to slow down his blustering Falstaff. Furthermore, the revellers at the inn must desist from behaving like a manic canned-laughter factory, robbing Falstaff of any chance of timing his storytelling for the audience’s benefit.

As indicated by a dress code that spans the centuries, Cooper is seeking to emphasise how human traits repeat through the passing years. Most effective is dressing Chris Laishley’s Hal as our present Prince Harry out on the town, while his behaviour gradually transforms him into the far more serious Prince William.

The house band and the folk-song incursions and a long scene of Welsh speaking further stretch out the running time, although a brief burst of rap was innovative.

And so it falls to Laishley and Toby Gordon’s Hotspur, a strutting cock of a 21st century anti-hero in black, to keep up the momentum: hard work for them, harder work for the audience.