SALT LAKE CITY — Henry IV, Part 1 is number 6 of 8 and perhaps one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s 8 “history plays.” In short, the history plays are different from his comedies, tragedies or romances. While many of his other works may be historical in nature, these 8 shows focus on the actual rise and fall of the House of Lancaster (a period also known as the War of the Roses).
Trying to offer a brief synopsis of the show is like trying to tell someone what Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is about without describing what has happened in the other books. So, when I say that Henry IV is about a strained relationship between a father and son, a family frustrated with the King and a group of thieves – know that this is Shakespeare and it’s not quite that simple.
Prince Hal, son of Henry IV is in line to be King but quite the embarrassment to the family as he would rather drink and associate with the local roughians and thieves. These scenes, with Prince Hal and Falstaff were truly my favorites of the production. The Percy family is disgruntled with the King for perceived wrongs against them and a seemingly separate story takes place as they plot to rise against King Henry. Eventually, all the characters end up on the same battlefield and the true meaning of honor, family and friendship are brought to light. The University of Utah’s Department of Theatre and Salt Lake Shakespeare recently launched a production of Henry IV, Part 1. The run has already ended and if you missed it, I would recommend you aim to go to their next production because it was incredibly well done.
Many may recognize the name of Sir John Falstaff, but I for one didn’t have any expectations going in. I hardly expected Paul Kiernan to steal the show by playing this role with such charisma and joviality. Who knew that Henry IV was so darn funny?
With such a brilliant performance by Kiernan, the rest of the cast was hard pressed to rise to the occasion, but rise they did. Peder Melhuse, while regal in his performance of Henry IV, pulled off an incredibly funny and entertaining Francis the Drawer and Andy Rindlisbach as Prince Hal was steady and consistent.
Whenever I attend a Shakespeare, it always takes a minute for me to settle in and grasp the language and thus what is going on. John Terry as Henry “Hotsput” Percy was the first to bring a smile to my face as his delivery of the complex verse felt so strong yet natural. He was the one that allowed for my transition into the story.
The set was simple and understated, which allowed for smooth transitions between scenes. The staging and direction of Hugh Hanson proved to be successfully done as the movement lent well to what was being said. To truly appreciate Shakespeare, one must watch it performed.
Overall, the cast delivered the lines without flaw (no easy feat), however there were several I felt lacked the commitment to the character, rather just gave a polished line. I also found that for such an over the top character as Falstaff, his “death” scene was anticlimactic as the staging drove it into the background of the fight. The sword fights, while choreographed well, were not action-packed and felt staged between scenes rather than part of a fluent ongoing battle.
At the end of the day, I was 100% engaged in this production and applauded those involved. I anxiously await (and you should as well) for further productions from Salt Lake Shakespeare and the University of Utah Department of Theatre. If you missed this production but are interested in seeing a production of Henry IV, Part 1, you can catch a filmed version from London’s Globe Theater on August 1st.