Player Kings ★★★★★ Noël Coward Theatre | Apr 1 - Jun 22, 2024

Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I and Part II deal with young Prince Hal and the rather libertine lifestyle in which he indulges before he assumes the throne as Henry V. To the despair of his father, Hal has fallen in with a gang of wastrels centred around the notorious Sir John Falstaff. The narrative arc of Shakespeare's story then becomes about Hal's choices as he is torn between two worlds: the enticements of hedonism and self-indulgence, and his father's call to duty and honour. However, in Robert Icke's adaptation of the two plays, the central character actually becomes Falstaff, and Hal's dilemma and decisions seem more like simply a backdrop for the comic hijinks of one of Shakespeare's most enduring and endearing creations. As Falstaff, Sir Ian McKellen puts in an unforgettable performance. He lights up the stage whenever he appears as the drunken prevaricator whose cunning and cowardice are somehow completely beguiling. Indeed, on the occasions when we are taken back into the plots and politics which are entailed in the tribulations of kingship, we find ourselves just waiting till McKellen is back on stage. Toheeb Jimoh is a nicely capricious Prince Hal and Samuel Edward-Cook creates a notably choleric Hotspur, while Richard Coyle evokes a suitably regal Henry IV, but they, and their struggles, all take a backseat to McKellen's definitive embodiment of everyone's favourite knave. It is a performance which solidifies Sir Ian's reputation as a king among players.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan

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