OSF’s Henry IV Part Two

Henry IV Part Two
Author: Shakespeare
Date attended: 14 September 2011 evening
Venue: Elizabethan Stage at OSF
Director: Lisa Peterson

What elements need to work in order for the story to be conveyed successfully?

  • Hal needs to be the Hal from Part One in his debauchery, slowly building to the King’s death which is his impetus to grow up
  • Falstaff and Hal’s relationship still needs to be strong so we feel the pang when Hal rejects him after his coronation
  • Clearly explaining the civil war and denoting the opposing sides so it’s understood

How did the production’s interpretation serve the story?

OSF’s production implemented a loose rock and roll, timeless theme. The costumes weren’t necessarily any period. And Rumor, the prologuist, acted as a master of ceremonies wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt. The transitions tried to increase the show’s pace by playing guitar riffs while characters ran back and forth in a wonderfully choreographed way. One of the interesting choices was making Poins deaf. Though I felt like that actually detracted from the relationship between Hal and Poins because you didn’t get a sense of back and forth. Instead, Poins signed his responses and Hal acted as his translator. I thought it was interesting though, and I’d be curious to hear the reasoning behind it because I’m intrigued.

Why this play now?

The difficulty with Henry IV Part Two is nothing exciting happens. There’s a war but we don’t see it. There are no tragic deaths except the King, which isn’t tragic but necessary. There are few emotional moments and the ones that could be dubbed emotional generally aren’t because we haven’t seen the characters together until this moment. There aren’t even that many scenes in which we see relationships build. Henry IV, both parts, are more about Hal than the King and, yet in Part Two Hal is only in five scenes. There is only one scene with Hal and Falstaff together. And only one scene with Hal and the King. On top of that there’s the political story which has characters that come in once and are never seen again, but are continually referenced often by different versions of their name. So, it’s a difficult show to communicate story because it’s talking about political shiftings as opposed to showing them.

What holds the play together is Falstaff. As such, his connections with Hal, Shallow, Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet need to be strong so that Hal’s rejection of him at the end of the show is entirely heartbreaking. Sadly, the production didn’t seem to focus on that relationship and as a result what happened was a series of scenes that seemed little connected to one another except that Falstaff was there. This ultimately is the Bard’s fault for giving the script so little emotion or action. If there’s only one scene with Falstaff and Hal, then in that one scene, we have to know their whole relationship and then see it dashed by the end.

In terms of what this play has to say now, I feel like Henry IV is about growing up, fitting into a role, and evaluating your future. This applies to all characters in the show, not just Hal. In the dramaturgy program, there was a quote that summed up what the show offers:

The character of Rumor opens the play with his prologue, setting the tone for what is to come: uncertainty, reversals of fortune and most of all, false expectations. Much of the play that follows is spent building up those expectations among both the characters and the audience and then dashing them, allowing the reality to be shown as somehow false or cheap or hollow.

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