BWW Review: HENRY IV - Hidden Room Rocks Shakespearean History
Shakespeare's HENRY IV (Part 1) is easily the most entertaining of his history plays and Hidden Room pulls out all the stops to wring every moment of excitement from the story. Director Beth Burns, using a script cut by American Shakespeare Center's Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, presents a stellar cast at the top of their game to the utter delight of every audience member.
While I'm well versed in the history, I must confess that I've never seen HENRY IV (either part 1 or 2) in performance. I must say that one of my greatest delights is discovering a new play, the fact that it's Shakespeare is the cherry on top. The second play in the War of the Roses cycle, that begins with RICHARD II and ends with RICHARD III, numbers eight full length plays in total. The title may be HENRY IV, but the story is really about Prince Henry (Brock England), also called Hal, the future Henry V. The story begins with the title king Henry (Rommel Sulit) speaking with regret about his usurpation of his predecessor Richard II and his desire to go on a crusade to the Holy Land to atone for his sins. He is deeply haunted by his actions and prays for peace in his realm. Of course it's then that a messenger arrives with news, Welsh rebel Owen Glendower (Lowell Bartholomee) has defeated the king's forces in the south and longtime supporter Henry Percy (Jay Fraley) and his son Henry, nicknamed Hotspur (Judd Farris) are refusing to deliver valuable hostages taken in a northern campaign into the custody of the king. The monarch scraps his plans for a foreign religious war and makes plans to bring his enemies to heel. But it's his son and heir that troubles the king the most. Prince Hal has been keeping low company, the medieval equivalent of slumming, with a disreputable knight by the name of Sir John Falstaff (Robert Matney). As one of Shakespeare's most beloved characters, Falstaff brings the party everywhere he goes. Hal is a full and willing participant in the drunken mayhem, even engaging in a friendly bit of armed robbery to teach the old knight a lesson. Never fear, Prince Hal has two more plays in which to redeem his base behavior and ends this one again in his father's favor. Unlike most of the history plays, HENRY IV gives full rein to the comic relief and the result is a much lighter piece of theatre. Hidden Room's production makes it easy to see why the character of Falstaff was such a favorite with the Elizabethans, some of the Bard's most epic verbal insults come rapid fire from his lips.
Hidden Room's production is absolutely stellar, relying on sterling acting and superior direction, it scores on every level. There are only a handful of directors in Austin who understand the 500 year old material with the same depth as director Beth Burns. Her direction is flawless, keeping her actors in nearly constant motion in a tennis court style space that has no set and no lighting effects. The entire cast is excellent and Great Performances are far too many to mention, but here are a few standouts worthy of special note. As the title king, Rommel Sulit delivers a commanding performance, his rage and disappointment in his profligate son is riveting. As the rebel Hotspur, Judd Farris is magnetic, his anger is as palpable as his fear; playing the character with depth and true heart. Brock England as Prince Hal is outstanding, he portrays the young royal as multifaceted, bringing both humor and gravitas to the role. Isto Barton, in the dual roles of Poins and Earl Douglas gives an exceptional, high energy performance in both roles that is electric. But it's Robert Matney as Falstaff who steals the show. His physical comedy is only matched by his matchless comic timing. He brings complete delight with every entrance eliciting belly laughs with his brilliant performance of the iconic character. Burns creates a glam-rock reality complete with a band headed by Todd Kassens who plays throughout the show, but my favorite part was the driving rock beat added to the final battle scenes. Fight choreography by Toby Minor is intense and extremely well played by every actor. The sword fighting surpasses any I have ever seen on an Austin stage and is truly thrilling. Costumes by Aaron Flynn are stylish, fun and eccentric. The entire production is electric from start to finish, a must see for anyone and everyone.
I give my highest recommendation to Hidden Room's HENRY IV, a once in a lifetime experience I know you will enjoy.
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Beth Burns
Hidden Room Theatre,
311 W. 7th Street
3rd floor, York Rite Masonic Temple
Austin, TX, 78701
September 08 - October 01, 2017
Running Time: 2 hours 50 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $15 - $30, hiddenroomtheatre.com