Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 17, 2013

Henry 4 (Bell Shakespeare Company)

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.


  1. What a fantastic trailer. I’ve never imagined Shakespeare in a modern setting. I so wish I lived in Australia this month so I could see this production!

    • Hop on a plane, autumn is a beautiful season in Melbourne!

  2. I had to read almost all of Shakespeare in college. Enjoyable and instructive as that was, I get a much better sense of the plays from live performance. For some years I was able to attend the Shakespeare in the Park performances in New York’s Central Park. The magic was that each play received a production and setting appropriate to its nature — sometimes Elizabethan, sometimes in modern dress. Another wonderful place to see Shakespeare plays is the reconstructed Globe Theater in London. The interaction of the characters and the movement on stage do a great deal to bring the drama alive.

    Shakespeare was a man of the theater and he wrote for critical and experienced audiences. You get a sense of that in the movie Shakespeare in Love

    • Hey Nancy, you’ve just added something else to my To Do list when finally I get to visit New York!

  3. Oh you should give reviewing other events you attend a go Lisa … like I sometimes do. I’m no musician but that doesn’t stop me! I love the Bell Shakespeare performances. We used to subscribe with some friends and for several years went as a group of 8 – them and their 2 kids and us with ours. We may not always have “liked” every interpretation but we liked the experience of going and seeing what they did. I haven’t been for a few years now – somehow got out of the habit – but I heard an interview with the actor who plays Henry 4 today on the radio and it got me thinking. Must. Go. To. Bell. Again! Anyhow, he talked about how Henry (well, Shakespeare really) shifts between speaking verse (mostly) and prose to Falstaff. I’ve read the Henry plays but I don’t recollect that.

    BTW My favourite Shakespeare memory was seeing Judi Dench in Twelfth Night way back in the early 70s in Sydney. Little did we know then, the career that was starting.

    • I heard that interview too! Amazing the way they could just launch into that excerpt so easily, as if the characters were part of them. But, hey, Judi Dench, that is a special memory indeed.
      I might branch out into drama and other areas one day, but right now, it’s all I can do to try and keep up with reviewing novels and occasional non-fiction. BTW talking of NF, I am reading Anita Heiss’s Am I Black Enough For You? over breakfast in the mornings, she writes just the way I imagine she talks, warm and funny, with a flash of steel within. I’m going to be late for work one of these days because I’ll get so absorbed in it I’ll forget to stop reading!

      • Fair enough … there’s time for other blogging.

        I just got my copy of the Heiss today but will probably save it until NAIDOC week? She is warm and funny when she talks so that’s great if the book reads like that.

        • I hope she comes down here for the MWF or something like that…and then I ould hear her in person

          • I hope so too because she’s good value.


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