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Review Henry 1V – York Shakespeare Project
For those of us aurally paralysed and visually starved by the ‘Voyage Round My Father’ genre of
contemporary theatre York Theatre Project’s Henry 1V, Parts 1 and 2 provided intense relief for
the ‘groundlings’ and a reminder of why they once went to the theatre, before it became ‘highbrow’
and the province of the ‘intellectual’. With a minimum of props and the non-purpose built setting
of a medieval church, the director, Tom Cooper, has managed to produce two plays that offer an
unforgettable theatrical experience, involving both eyes and ears, and almost touch. The audience
to stage set-up is so intimate that you might find Falstaff lying, apparently dead, almost within
reach of your foot. The three-sided audience seating also adds to this sense of involvement in the
The lighting was masterly, silently creating the sense of a change of scene, the sense of day or
night, and the focus for entrances, and for concentration on a particular character. Both Graham
Davison and Karen Millar deserve congratulations for this.
There were a number of notable performances from the actors involved. Toby Gordon, as Hotspur,
was mesmeric in Part 1, evincing awesome stage presence and having an ability to reflect and
extend the character through his body language so that the part became much more than just the
lines spoken. Esme Wise also drew the eye on stage and managed to redeem a difficult part, as
Lady Percy, from farce. Robin Sanger, as Falstaff, gave a magnificent performance. His use of
his eyes, to convey mood, is unusual in a stage actor, but was extremely effective. His stance on the
stage, with legs slightly bent, and backside akimbo, also managed to convey character without a
word spoken. There was a slight problem with his stomach stuffing, which refused to stay in place
in one of the performances, but gravity was always a problem for Sir John, one felt.
This was theatre as it ought to be, the creation of a few talented people on a bare floor, intimate and
gripping, involving the audience in a feat of imagination and ‘outre corps’ that will stay with those
who were privileged to watch it for a long time.