Druid’s latest extravaganza is a bold one. Truncating the four plays of the ‘Henriad’ into a more digestible narrative, the show wreaks a little havoc on Shakespeare’s work but it is always, fundamentally, a creative havoc. Shakespeare’s key themes — the weight of sovereign power, the conflict between order and anarchy, the spectre of our mortality — are rendered vividly.
Together, the four plays recount how the English crown passes from the erratic King Richard II (Marty Rea) through the usurper Henry Bolingbroke (Derbhle Crotty) to the latter’s son, Henry V (Aisling O’Sullivan). Unsurprisingly, it is the two superior plays (Richard II and King Henry IV, Part I) that come across best. The final play, Henry V, is a tad wayward, although writer Mark O’Rowe and director Garry Hynes wonderfully subvert its triumphalist tone at the close.
There are some very beautiful moments, among them the extraordinary entrances of Rea in Richard II and Crotty in King Henry IV, Part II. Meanwhile, even deprived of one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, Aisling O’Sullivan makes a wonderful Prince Hal. Her stage persona has always laced with a fiery, unruly energy with a strange vulnerability, and that works perfectly here. Elsewhere, there is some mighty comedy in Aaron Monaghan’s Ancient Pistol and in Rory Nolan’s Falstaff.
Some gambles (eg. the use of regional Irish accents) misfire at times. But, then, in a six-hour show that races along at breakneck speed — a mad, dynamic pageant of fire, blood, guts, and spunk — something has to give. Sinking their teeth into Shakespeare, this brilliant Druid ensemble clutch him down to the sad, saving, and sacred earth where his work belongs, and you leave stunned by the measure and the ferocity of their bite.
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