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
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
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!