Henry IV
at The Peacock Theatre, Dublin.
Jerome de Groot
University College Dublin

De Groot, Jerome. "Review of Henry IV at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.3 (January, 2003): 17.1-3 <URL:

  1. Shakespeare is something of a rarity in Dublin, his appearance on the stage of the National Theatre of Ireland only permitted because this version of Henry IV is adapted by award-winning Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe. The lack of familiarity is something of a blessing for this particular production. O'Rowe's adaptation strips the play down to its essentials and presents a spare and tight historical drama shorn of any excess speechifying and wandering. Furthermore, the lack of RSC-esque appropriation of Shakespearean acting style and the obvious novelty value of the text to the cast allowed for a stimulating and exciting evening. Taken out of the West End or Stratford, Henry IV is here just another text but what a text. Such an iconoclastic approach to the Bard is refreshing.

  2. The performance starts slightly awkwardly, with Nick Dunning's Bolingbroke seemingly directed to embody nobility merely by shouting all his lines, but soon finds its tempo and develops into an even-paced, clear reading of the text. The sections of diplomacy and political manoeuvring are handled well and the scenes of Hal (Tom Murphy) and his cohorts making merry are invested with much verve and humour. What the adaptation allows is a streamlining of both strands of the play to make it very coherent and sharp, a focussed and lean production that plays to the strengths of the various company decisions. These include a cast of only nine members, performance in the round and an inventive approach to props. Often the direction and the placement of actors creates an impression of a much greater number of cast members, and the play is very cogently staged, with obvious care going into each scene. This clear awareness of the potential of dramatic space lends the performance great clarity and a certain austerity, even during the battles. The piece is direct, pointed and muscular.

  3. The battles are performed with an athleticism and verisimilitude that is at times alarming for those in the front row. The climactic duel between Hal and Hotspur (Declan Colon) is aggressive and bloody. Hotspur dies in Hal's arms, stabbed in the belly in a violent embrace that is a keynote of the entire performance. The complex importance of homosocial spaces in the definition of self and nationhood is continually suggested, and it comes as something of a shock when a woman appears onstage. Love may be important to Hotspur, but what he really values is the heat of battle and the camaraderie of the political faction. The interrogation of war, camaraderie and male friendship that is clearly an important aspect of the play is explored, but not overemphasised. Homosociality is a motif and a concern, the spaces of the court, the public house, and the battlefield contrasted brilliantly with the cosy household that Hotspur craves but finally leaves. Similarly, Hal's connection to his band of drinking partners is infused with a cynicism and peculiarly male competitiveness that provides him with much insight and understanding of the male world. The wiry play becomes simultaneously a celebration and a denunciation of masculinity, a performance of muscular reality and bruising shock that ends in the trauma of death, but also in the eventual victory of the legitimate.


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)