Kings are used to being centre stage but Shakespeare’s Henry IV never really gets that chance – and this RSC production of Part I of the Bard’s epic tale doesn’t upset that.
As is the trend Falstaff instead takes focus, on this occasion played by Anthony Sher. He takes the route of the charming old soak, at times so convincingly that his gargling marrs his words. This is a portly Falstaff that is meant to be liked; with a sack-filled rather than dark underbelly.
Alex Hassell is a dashing Prince Hal. He inhabits the dual role masterfully, slipping convincingly between the vice of Eastcheap and the valour of the battlefield.
As his rival Hotspur, Trevor White is unrelenting in his performance but Gregory Doran’s direction has him as impetuous and bratty rather than an (unflattering) mirror to Hal, wasting a key dynamic of the piece.
And the king? Jasper Britton is solid in the titular part, hinting at an undercurrent of uncertainty and guilt in his otherwise resolute actions to save his stolen crown.
This is a crowd-pleasing production that takes few risks: the audacity is in performing both – lengthy – parts of the tale back to back, and that is an impressive feat.