Mark Danciger is more than impressed with this traditional and polished performance of Henry IV.

acting actors ADC five stars henry iv performance performing review Shakespeare

Henry IV, Tues 5th May – Sat 9th May, ADC 7.45pm £12/9

This traditional and professional production is well acted, with a beautiful set, that deserves to sell out every night.

It’s surprisingly rare to see traditional productions of Shakespeare in Cambridge.The trend seems to be towards modernisation, with productions set in warzones or inner-cities, and using contemporary movement or dance, flashy lighting and pop music soundtracks.

This is not necessarily a bad thing- these productions are often unique and interesting- but sometimes the spirit of the play is lost amidst a desire to innovate.

Jamie Armitage’s production of Henry IV Part 1 proudly bucks that trend. It is defiantly traditional, with period costumes and set, and even an Elizabethan jig at the end. And somehow, in doing so, it manages to breathe new life into the play, and innovates more than any modern adaption I’ve seen. This is thanks to an extraordinarily talented cast and crew.

Talent assembled in front of the globe…or the adc…or the globe… who knows anymore? -Image Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Every actor performs at the top of their game, every directorial decision is appropriate and cleverly executed, and every part of the set, lighting and costume is a delight to watch. It is, in a word, brilliant.

The real difficulty in staging Henry IV Part 1 is dealing with the many tonal shifts in the play. At its core, there are two key plot threads. First, King Henry IV (James Hancock-Evans), already embroiled in wars with Scotland and Wales, faces further problems when the young, angry Hotspur (Tom Beaven) launches a rebellion against the King.

Infuriatingly good! Image Credit – Johannes Hjorth

These sections play as high political drama, much like you’d find in Henry V, or Julius Caesar. However, at the same time a farce is playing out- the King’s disobedient son, Hal (Marco Young) is drinking and thieving with a series of scoundrels- most notably the drunkard Falstaff (Tim Atkin). As the play goes on, these two threads come together, both in terms of plot and tone, leading to a tragicomic final act.

Two paths of the play coming seamlessly together – Image Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Armitage handles both threads with aplomb. In the dramatic sections he creates genuine tension, and the conflict between King Henry and Hotspur is palpable. Much of the credit here has to be given to Hancock-Evans and Beaven for a pair of stellar performances. Both actors are capable of launching into furious tirades, punctuated by moments of deathly silence that cause the audience to hold their breath.

However, it is in the comedic sections where the play really shines. The true credit for this has to be given to Atkin for his truly outstanding portrayal of Falstaff. He’s the most perfect Falstaff I’ve ever seen, making the drunk old coward not only hilarious, but also frequently moving. In fact, Atkin is so perfect for the role that I’m convinced he could make a career out of just playing Falstaff in different professional productions. I’d never tire of watching him.

you mean we got five stars? – Image Credit – Johannes Hjorth

However, it would be unfair on to give him all the credit, as so much of the strength of his performance comes from his interaction with his fellow cast members, most notably Marco Young as Hal. Young is wonderfully dynamic in the role, initially light-hearted and irresponsible, but developing genuine gravitas in the final act.

A special mention also has to be made to Lydia Clark (Set Designer), and Jack Swanborough (Technical Director). The set is truly astonishing- a realistic recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe, which not only looks visually impressive but makes the stage feel much larger than it actually is. To my mind, it’s the best set we’ve seen at the ADC since The Tempest.

The ADC in all its glory – Image Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Usually, I’d make a few comments about issues with the production. But in all honesty there’s very little to mention.

Five stars.

For more images of Henry IV’s dress rehearsal, please see Johannes Hjorth’s blog :