Prison guards welcomed us at the Donmar Warehouse production of Henry IV. We were told to cross over to the Seven Dials club and wait to be called. As Phyllida Lloyd was directing. I knew this could be no gimmick and felt a frisson of expectation of what Grotowski would call being taken into a reality performance way of thinking.
The all female cast of Henry IV was set in a Women’s Prison and this backdrop gave extra understanding of the “clan” based action of the play. As with the all male productions of Shakespeare at the Globe, the text takes on a priority of significance when all the parts are played by the same sex. The physicality was intense and the fights, especially the final battle, were stark and wonderfully staged – Kate Waters was the fight director. The discipline of the actors was fantastic. Jade Anouka being outstanding in her physical portrayal of Hotspur. Falstaff, played by Ashley McGuire, Lady Percy/Gadshill played by Sharon Rooney, King Henry played by Harriet Walter, Worcester played by Ann Ogbomo and Hotspur’s messenger played by Katie Robinson gave outstanding performances. The delivery of the speeches by the actors was clear and I felt that most of the voices were good and I went with Harriet Walters voice and speech in her final scenes. Hal, played by Clare Dunne seemed too wired/tired to be emotionally comfortable with the text and the strong Belfast accent perhaps was restricting. The voice coach – the esteemed Barbara Houseman – must have had her reasons for this.
It is a great production and shows the struggle for power, leadership and ownership in a clear and disturbing way, with affection and love as the ultimate, heartrending sacrifice. Some of the actors have worked with the Clean Break theatre company – a theatre company cast from women who’ve been in prison. For many reasons is a great production.