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Happy 450th Birthday, Shakespeare!

Each weekend for the past month has been a lovely flurry of entertaining friends and family and being entertained by friends and family…

And so it continues. We are in Banbury this weekend for a happy reunion lunch with old friends from South Africa, by way of Stratford where nearly a year ago a group of us had booked to see Henry IV Part 1.

The date was chosen at random, little realising that this weekend Stratford would be given over to celebrating the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare.

Tipped off in time, we all parked and rode which was a wise move as from early in the morning Stratford was very busy, with many streets given over to processions and various jollities, all (fortunately) in the warm sunshine.

There was a lovely atmosphere – happy, relaxed and smiley with everybody enjoying the fun. A man was creating giant soap bubbles which entranced not only the children, as the wonderful shapes floated overhead, reflecting the river and the trees; there were little groups of singers and dancers, and we were privileged to listen to a group of singers from the Birmingham Conservatoire who were singing madrigals, quite beautifully, in the theatre corridor.

The RSC was holding a series of workshops in a marquee and as we waited for our matinee to start John and I briefly attended a workshop on stage fighting (as watchers rather than partakers in case you were wondering…). It certainly gave us an insight into what goes into the stage fighting we were about to witness.

Henry 1V Part 1 (Part 2 for us will be later in the Summer) was the reason we were here at all to enjoy all these scenes and activities.

Apparently according to RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran, Henry IV Parts I and II are two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays but it is not a play we had seen or knew anything much about. I found it surprisingly easy to read beforehand and of course all the scenes with Falstaff (Antony Sher) mean there are as many laughs as ‘tragic’ scenes.

We sat three rows from the stage, at ground level, so almost felt part of the action: we were all gripped from start to finish. Antony Sher as Falstaff was predictably quite superb. Alex Hassell as Prince Henry was good; I wasn’t so sure about Hotspur, played by Trevor White. To me he overdid the ‘hotspurish’ nature to the extent that Hotspur came over as childish and almost manic. This didn’t fit the picture of the brave and heroic man that King Henry compared so favourably to his own disappointing and dissolute son, Prince Hal – who despite his failings came over as the more attractive.

It would be interesting to know what any of you reading this, who have seen this production of Henry 1V think. Perhaps when I listen to the talk by the Artistic Director I will eat my ignorant words and edit this whole section!

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