Play out the Play

Bell Shakespeare’s adaption of Henry IV is non-traditional, a little rock and roll, and has

stacks of energy. Opening to some British rock and with the destruction of a huge Union

Jack made of crates, from the very beginning you know that you’re in for an entertaining

ride.

 

Henry IV isn’t one of Shakespeare’s better know works and Bell’s interpretation has

combined two separate plays, Henry IV parts one and two, and presented the play as one.

The play centres around the debauched Prince Hal, a constant disappointment to his

father King Henry IV, due to his inability to act with responsibility and restraint whilst

continually frequenting various brothels and pubs with his unsavory friends. King Henry

has recently overthrown his cousin, King Richard II; however, it is not too long before

trouble starts. The powerful Percy family, previously allies of the King, decide to join forces

with the Scots in rebelling against the monarchy. Led by Henry Percy (Hotspur) this force

proves to be a formidable enemy for poor King Henry. Prince Hal along with his

unpalatable friends is still hooning around the seedy underworld of bars and brothels, but

with England on the verge of civil war he is forced to step up and become the true heir – and

all which that entails.

 

The casting is fantastic across the board, with the acting tight, energetic and witty. But it

must be admitted that John Bell absolutely dominates as Falstaff, sashaying around as

one of Prince Hal’s disreputable drinking buddies. He commands the stage, challenging all

around him to make their presence known. It is interesting to note that all of the cast keep

their Australian accents, at once making a statement to Shakespeare’s timelessness

and currentness in today’s world, whilst also making the play particularly accessible to its

audience.

 

Henry IV is a tale of rebellion and redemption and truly showcases Shakespeare’s genius.

Bell’s rendering of the play both celebrates its history whilst also giving it a

currentness that administers a level of accessibility that Shakespeare can often lack.

 

Personally I walked in a skeptic, having had too many years of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth

and Hamlet shoved down my throat at school. However, after walking out I can officially call

myself a convert to the John Bell School of Shakespeare. Bell’s Henry IV is engrossing,

witty and has a great soundtrack. My advice – you should go!