REVIEW: Henry IV Part 1 and 2 | Arts Club | 16 & 17 December 2015

Henry IV Part 1 and 2PurpleCoat are a unique theatre company who consistently stand out from the crowd with their diverse and interesting productions. Having recently been awarded funding from the ArtsCouncil in order to continue their work, PurpleCoat celebrated by bringing to the stage their own exciting take on two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays: Henry IV Part 1 and 2. Playing at the Arts Club until 19th December 2015, our resident reviewer Mari Jones went along to the two opening nights to see these fascinating performances first-hand.

I was already somewhat familiar with PurpleCoat Productions before I went along to their staging of Henry IV Part 1 and 2. Several months ago I went to the premiere of a short film they made called Sad. Man. Smiling. – a hilarious, horror short about a zombie apocalypse and a failing actor caught in the middle of it. There was also a short documentary screened on the night about PurpleCoat and their other work, specifically their theatre productions which take an inventive and interesting look at classic stories, in particular Shakespeare’s plays. I was intrigued by them straight away, so when the opportunity came up to see not one, but two of their plays being performed, I jumped at the chance. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Indeed Shakespeare has never been fresher or more entertaining than this. Changing the setting to modern times, the Bard’s tales still remain the same, PurpleCoat’s version focusing on the usual key themes of family, war and politics in the stories. Yet these particular productions have also added an exciting aspect of gender by switching some of the roles to female characters, specifically the two key roles of Prince Hal and Falstaff. While this might have been in danger of creating confusion around the tales, in director Karl Falconer’s hands it really works, especially when it is reinforced by the impressive performances from Caitlin Clough as Hal and Olivia Howell as Falstaff, who also adds some great comic relief as this larger-than-life character. This innovative idea truly adds an interesting angle to the stories that lets you look at them in a new light, yet that doesn’t change the meaning or outcome behind the Bard’s original plays.

Another aspect that immediately hits you from the start of both productions is the staging. Placing the audience directly around the stage, they are totally immersed in the story as it plays out before them, something that makes some of the more dramatic scenes, as well as some of the fight scenes, all the more intense to witness.

Further immersing you in Shakespeare’s tale is the decision to stage the second part of Henry IV the night after the first – an idea that is so ingenious you wonder why no-one has ever thought to do it before. It offers the audience a true theatrical experience, leaving you with the events of the first story to think about overnight, before you are presented with the next the following day. Both parts are equally epic, PurpleCoat’s version playing out with all of the drama and emotion of Shakespeare’s plays, yet also with an edge of dark humour to them at times.

With a superb cast, creative staging and exciting stories, PurpleCoat’s productions of Henry IV Part 1 and 2 are rare theatrical gems – a true experience that everyone should see. Now with ArtsCouncil funding behind them it’ll certainly be exciting to see where PurpleCoat will be heading in 2016.

Written by Mari Jones

Henry IV Part 1 will be on again at the Arts Club on Friday 18th December, and Part 2 will be on Saturday 19th December. Tickets on sale here.

For more information about PurpleCoat, visit: www.purplecoatproductions.com

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