One Henry was never going to be enough when I could have three, and having no sense of balance I thought it would be a great idea to go ‘once more unto the breach’ and watch all of Shakespeare’s Henrys in one all day marathon put on for the press. I’m not sure what’s more bizarre, me watching all three or the cast who played multiple roles in this 12-hour extravaganza, writes Susan Hallissey.

In Henry IV part 1 the focus is on the young Prince Hal and his relationship with Falstaff. This association is causing King Henry distress as he worries about the impact the braggart Falstaff and his cronies have on Hal. ‘Why can’t Hal be more like Hotspur with his princely qualities?’ Asks Henry, as Wales, Scotland and Northumberland rebel against the sickly King, who believes Hal is wasting his time with the drunken troupe at the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Prince Hal, eloquently played by Sarah Amankwah, gives weight and growth throughout the three plays. Not a word is spilt when she speaks. 

A scene from Henry V by The Globe Ensemble @ Shakespeare’s Globe
(Opening 10-05-19)

The fast talking, scheming Falstaff – almost an ‘AbFab’ character – worked well and had the audience in stitches in the capable hands of Helen Schlesinger, a powerhouse of energy, The Gadshill robbery scene being amongst the most hilarious. Michelle Terry’s Hotspur also kept us on our toes with her vibrancy and fast paced wit. 

As we move to Henry IV part 2 Hal begins to mature and move away from Falstaff. While he is crowned King he denies all knowledge of his old friend: ‘I know thee not, old man’ – breaking Falstaff’s heart, and mine! A shout out to Sophie Russell as Shallow, whose interaction with Falstaff was genius.

In Henry V, Sarah Amankwah is now the assured King and her voice was crystal clear as England and France prepared for battle. The tennis ball scene provided a glint of Henry’s growing confidence, with Amankwah providing much in this scene with only her eyes. 

No Falstaff here, however, Colin Hurley as Katherine (amongst others) and Steffan Donnelly as Captain Fluellen, provided the laugh out loud moments. Welcome relief in the height of war, and the battle of Agincourt. 

Purists may not be happy with the role reversals but power to the women who played these parts. The Globe reaches out to a wider audience regarding accessibility and Shakespeare is shaken up once again in these productions. I hope the allure of diversity reaches far and wide.

What an amazing feat for the actors who rightly received a standing ovation at the day’s end. As the finale came to a close with a boisterous drumming scene, the actors seemed to leap for joy while exiting the stage! I hope they enjoyed the big bold productions as much as I did! Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and go and enjoy one or all of these.  They are awesome!

All playing at Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, SE1 until October 11th. Times: Various. Admission: £5 – £47. Phone: 0207 401 9919