Multi-award-wining South African-born actor Antony Sher, who was knighted in 2000, does stars in director Gregory Doran’s traditionally staged double bill for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Sher plays the fat, full-of-himself Sir John Falstaff, a debauched coward and disreputable father-figure to Prince Hal (eventually Henry V) in the young man’s dissolute days in Eastcheap – before the heavy responsibility of royal duty descends upon his shoulders.

A recent all-female version of these two plays successfully conflated both to a total two hour running time, but here there’s barely a cut. Over the course of six hours, we see Alex Hassell’s Hal, a source of despair to his father (Jasper Britton’s forceful, guilt-ridden Henry IV) grow into a worthy successor to the throne and, cruelly, disown his erstwhile drinking companions.

Each part can stand alone – and Sher, always a commanding actor and here with an unruly mop of grey hair and heavily padded (his stomach rendering him as helpless as a beetle on his back) relishes every moment. Oliver Ford Davies also performs well, bringing his distinctive mournful tones to the somewhat comic role of the nostalgic Justice Shallow.

In contrast to the lazily indulgent excess of his roistering in the taverns, the full-bloodied swordfights Hal subsequently faces serve as a vivid reminder of Britain’s precarious state of unrest under his father’s rule.

This history-based double bill provides a bracing mix of apprehension and light humour, which is worth a watch.


Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS

Tube: Barbican

Until 24th January

£10.00 – £55.00 each part