Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown

Brussels Shakespeare Society captures the essence of all things good about The Great Bard at his finest in Henry IV Parts 1 & 2.

When I was being interviewed for my first English literature and language teaching post in North Yorkshire, England, I was asked the standard question about why we should continue to teach Shakespeare in the 21st Century. The tone implied that these relatively disadvantaged students from a rural market town would have little use for the poetry and drama of old Bill. I waffled on in response about how ambition in Macbeth, jealousy in Othello, and forbidden love in Romeo and Juliet continue to strike a chord today since they are essentially human concepts, and that’s why we should continue. Gladly, on reflection, I was spared the ‘universality of any literary work’ response, and the follow-up of, ‘Why Shakespeare rather than anyone else?’ to which I may have struggled to respond.

There are, I now think, two reasons why we should continue to study, watch and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays, and both are delivered with aplomb in Sven Delariviere’s directorial masterclass of the BSS’s Henry IV: his comments on the nature of leadership and governance — an issue of utmost importance in these unsettling times — and his capacity to move the audience from earnest politicking to raucous, bawdy humour, from enthusiastic rebellion and hopes for a brighter future under more just leadership, to good old-fashioned laughter and tender sentimentality.

The play, an adaptation incorporating most of Part One and some of Part Two, tells the tale of the unstable rule of Henry of Bolingbroke — King Henry IV — and how his crown weighs heavily throughout his reign after his alleged stealing of power from the intended Lord Edmund Mortimer. Mortimer, who leads a tripartite rebellion with Sir Henry Percy — known to all as Hotspur, for his rash hotheadedness, and portrayed by newcomer, Dougal Stenson — and Owen Glendower, fleetingly appears but the rebellion is ultimately crushed and the rebels are made to pay for their challenge to the King.

Meanwhile, alongside this clash of steel and rhetoric, we chronicle the rise and rise of Prince Hal. From rogue about town, drinking, philandering and causing general havoc, while mercilessly tormenting the fat buffoon, Sir John Falstaff (the brilliant Jonathan Goldsmith), to the final moments of the play when he is crowned King Henry V, the story of Hal — his coming of age embodied by Ben Landsbert-Noon — and his conflicted relationship with his father — the brooding and troubled King captured expertly by Graham Vincent — is just one reason to enjoy this spectacle, as always with Shakespeare ticking along at a fair old lick, with laughter, tears and battles all carefully interspersed for hearty entertainment for all.

Just as in Macbeth, Shakespeare understood that institutions and countries tend to reflect their leaders, with Scotland under that tyrant personified as ‘weep[ing]’ and ‘bleed[ing]’, so Henry IV also suffers from ill-fitting robes, and his introspective journey about the nature of power couldn’t be more relevant to the global community in the 21st Century.

Don’t miss this show; tickets available now.

The Brussels Shakespeare Society is proud to present:

Henry IV

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sven Delarivière

19–23 June at 8pm

24 June at 2pm & 8pm

The Petit Varia, Rue Gray 154, 1050 Ixelles

Tickets: €16 — Students & Groups: €14

thelittleboxoffice.com/bss

Special school rates: email bss.boxoffice@gmail.com

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Neil Allen’s story.