Progress Theatre's Henry IV Part One reviewed
Published 12 Jul 2012 09:30 0 Comments
Despite foreboding skies and a spot of drizzle, Progress Theatre's open air performance of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part One managed to prove false many of my preconceptions about the Bard's history plays.
Far from being the dull trip through battlefields and confusing family trees that I had anticipated, the lively characters of Henry IV Part One leaped to life in the very capable hands of the actors and stage crew from Progress. The play depicts an England in turmoil, as King Henry is threatened by rebellion, seemingly on all sides, from noblemen, the Welsh and the Scots. Against this backdrop of threat and strained democracy, the King's son Hal runs wild with drunken thieves and ner-do-wells, bringing shame on his father as the noise of canons and the clamour of battle grows ever-closer.
In the beautiful setting of Caversham Court gardens, with a sparsely-set stage flanked by the river and glorious flowerbeds, with a backdrop of trees, the audience felt transported to another time. Strong performances by Matthew Wellard as the smouldering, and often incandescent, firebrand Henry Percy, Will Gillham as the mischievous and hedonistic Prince Hal, and Lauren Gilbert as his lively partner in crime, Edward Poins, made the play compelling viewing. And the antics of the lumbering drunkard, Sir John Falstaff (Anthony Travis) provided a welcome, and typically Shakespearean, comic relief against the serious machinations of battle-planning taking place in the court of King Henry IV (Matt Tully).
Progress Theatre's open-air Shakespeare has established itself as one of the not-to-be-missed events in Reading's summer arts calendar, and this production is no different. So pack a picnic and get down to the Gardens for an evening of escapism - but just a warning, you'll be willing them to stage the sequel soon!
The play runs at Caversham Court Gardens, Reading, until Saturday, July 21. Tickets cost £15, with £13 concession, from www.readingarts.com or 0118 960 6060.