Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays — Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V — will be
performed as part of a special evening, Cry God for Harry! Independent Theatre’s artistic director Rob Croser answers The Adelaide Review’s questions about adapting these famous plays (also known as the Henriad) regarded as Shakespeare’s great political works.
What made you want to present the Henry IV plays now? And what does it say to today’s audiences?
Alongside the great tragedies, I have always considered the Henry IV plays among Shakespeare’s greatest achievements. Unique amongst all the plays, they cover the entire social spectrum of England (and any country) from monarchs, through power-brokers, nobility all the way down to pub-dwellers, petty thieves and children, palace, city and country. And they move, seamlessly, back and forth between all of these worlds.
The central figure that joins these worlds — and bridges these gaps — is Prince Hal, who goes on to become Shakespeare’s version of the ideal heroic ruler.
What the plays say to me — and, hopefully, to modern audiences — is that true leadership can only really come, and be effective, when someone expected to be leader, is able to bridge all these worlds, and empathise and communicate with people fr om all walks of life. Unlike Richard II, and his own father, Henry IV, Hal has been made able to do this, through his association with — and education by — Falstaff and the members of his world.
Will the journey of Prince Hal from wayward youngster to responsible ruler — and his two father-figures, Falstaff and Henry IV — be the main focus of your productions?
Hal’s education became the guiding principle of my adaptation, and led me to delve back into Richard II, and move forward into Henry V. I don’t believe that you can fully understand Hal’s journey, without knowing of his father’s rebellion against, and deposition of, the anointed monarch, Richard II. On the eve of Agincourt, we find Hal still praying that God not hold against him his father’s fault in “compassing the crown”. Someone only knowing Henry V would have no idea of what this means. Similarly — for me — it is not until we get to the Crispin Day speech in Henry V, that we see Hal truly able to represent his whole kingdom — when he genuinely calls himself one of a “band of brothers”.
This, I believe, he can only have learnt from Falstaff. It is not something that either his father, or Richard II, would ever dream of saying. So, I focus on Hal’s troubled, deeply dysfunctional, relationship with his father, and his joyously comfortable relationship with Falstaff and his cronies, and his having to move back and forth between these two worlds.
Will Cox stars in Cry God for Harry! as Henry V and Prince Harry
The Henriad is rarely performed in full. The BBC recently filmed it as The Hollow Crown. How tricky was it to condense it into a three-hour production? What did you decide to leave out, and what did you decide to tighten your focus on?
This was my initial problem. I loved both Henry IV plays, and have seen them performed together many times, both here and in England (State Theatre with Michael Siberry and Kevin Miles; the touring English Shakespeare Company, with Michael Pennington; the RSC in 1983; Timothy West and Samuel West at Richmond in the mid-1990s; and, most recently, Anthony Sher and Alex Hassall at the Barbican in 2015). But, our company simply didn’t have the resources to stage nearly six hours of Shakespeare. So, I began doing a pruning-job, of getting both plays down into a single play. But, as I did, I found that I wanted to focus more on the Hal education, which then took me back into Richard II, and on into Henry V.
Cry God for Harry!
The Space Theatre
Friday, August 4 to Saturday, August 12