While Monday’s Mexican production of Henry IV Part One took a straightforward approach to the historical play, and succeeded, Elkafka Espacio Teatral played with the setting a bit more. The result was hit and miss, but the hits were very interesting, and many of the misses were down to the simple fact that Henry IV, Part Two is a patchier play than Henry IV, Part One.
Part of the dramaturgical problem with Part Two is that we’ve seen it all before, in the previous play: Falstaff aggrandizing himself between begging for money, Hal and Poins playing a trick on him at the Boar’s Head, a rebellion due to Henry IV’s shaky claim to the throne, Henry summoning his son to Westminster to tell him off for screwing around in pubs.
There are some key differences, however, which the direction picked up on to good effect. There is no energetic character like Hotspur driving the action; the rebels are more self-doubting and sophisticated. There is no grand comic figure like Owen Glendower; the new additions are the nostalgic, slow-paced country justices Shallow and Silence, and the Boar’s Head denizens Doll Tearsheet and Pistol. Pistol has something of Hotspur’s fierce energy, but he’s a less solid character, and less important (read: not onstage as much). Hal could be excused for wasting his time in the pub in Part One, but we’ve already seen his (apparently sincere) promise to reform at the end of that play, so coming back Part Two to find him lounging in the Boar’s Head again is a bit depressing.