Harriet Walters is Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse
If you saw the all-female Julius Caesar at the Donmar two years ago, the setting of this abridged version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 will be familiar to you: a women's prison. And I must confess I was a little bit disappointed when I heard it was to be the same device (why does the all female cast have to be explained?)
The plastic chairs, stark lighting and functional institution-style set and props are back. In order to make this a more immersive experience, the audience is asked to gather at a cocktail bar down the road before being directed to an unglamourous side entrance where staff dressed as prison guards direct you to your seats.
Brash and bold in style and tone - just like Julius Caesar - the genius of this particular production is in the use of popular songs and music and also in the cast. It feels a bit impolite to say but they look normal, like an everyday bunch of women who just happen to have taken a path down the wrong side of the law. The grey baggy track suits help, it is size, shape, haircuts and ethnicity that are the distinguishing features. The personalities and attitudes of the characters shine through released from the shackles of formal costume and 'courtly' behaviour.
Harriet Walters plays a no nonsense king, she reminded me a little of Marlon Brando in the Godfather with her slightly set jaw and low gravely tone.
Her son, Prince Hal (Claire Dunn), is Irish and the leader of the rebellion, the hot-headed Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (Jade Anouka) is a small but tough and moves like she could take care of herself on a dark night in less salubrious London suburb.
There are Scottish, Yorkshire and Afro-Caribbean accents in the mix too giving Shakespeare’s words an earthiness. And it is delivered with a fresh clarity and comprehension – it is some of the best I’ve heard.
The two plays have been condensed down into a swift and pacey two hours straight through and not once did it feel like there were any great omissions, in fact there is one scene that could have been cut shorter without harm.