This isn’t a review of the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry 4, I wouldn’t dare. Theatre reviews are right out of my comfort zone, especially plays by Shakespeare. But I do want to comment on the performance we saw tonight because there may be others out there who are also newbies to the world of Shakespearean drama and are not quite sure about investing in a ticket.
I’m not quite a newbie: I know most of Shakespeare’s more popular plays, because I studied them at school and university. I know Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, The Tempest, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear (my favourite), All’s Well That Ends Well, and As You Like It.
But I’ve seen very few of these plays in performance – only Macbeth, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Othello and Julius Caesar. Oh yes, and a couple as films, Laurence Olivier as Othello and the Elizabeth Taylor film of The Taming of the Shrew. With the exception of Macbeth which was an excellent production that I saw as a schoolgirl, the other live performances were woeful – wooden acting, inane stage sets and tatty costuming. Back in the 1980s I remember walking out of an MTC performance at interval and not going back, a painful experience because theatre tickets were not cheap. (Except for amateur theatre companies, of course. Many of Melbourne’s amateur companies are very good indeed, though I’d have my doubts about risking Shakespeare with any of the ones I know).
The Spouse and I went to an outdoor performance of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream when we were courting but I got eaten alive by mosquitoes and he did not enjoy it so that was the end of that…
Until last year when he was studying Greek and Roman history at university and the Bell Shakespeare Co was putting on Julius Caesar. We went, and it was wonderful. So it wasn’t hard to persuade him to come along to Henry 4 this time, and that was wonderful too. This company has a level of expertise unmatched by any other company in Australia because they specialise in Shakespeare, putting on exciting productions that they make relevant to contemporary life. They don’t use Renaissance costumes or sets which always seem so wrong in Australia, but rather use sets and costumes that are contemporary. (Doll Tearsheet’s mini skirt and platform shoes tonight – wow!)
So if you’re a bit nervous about Shakespeare but you’re curious enough to want to try it, my advice is to try a production by the Bell Shakespeare Company.