This series of reviews will look at ‘Globe to Globe’ productions, an extraordinary effort by London’s Globe Theatre to stage every Shakespeare play in a foreign language.
The National Theatre of Mexico stages a fun production of Henry IV, Part I. The show is a welcome break as so far all the productions in the Globe-to-Globe series have been European or African, and some Latino flair has been missing. Director Hugo Arrevillaga puts on a real show for the audience, balancing the rigours of the story with a Mexican flavor.
The staging is superb. Not being confined to the limits of the already large stage, big planks of wood lead out from the stage into the audience, acting as barriers and providing wooden structures for the cast to duck in and out of. The stage is full throughout and much thought has gone into using the stage more ambitiously than other productions. Various structures create a whole range of settings, from elegant throne rooms, street scenes, the battlefield, and--most importantly--the taverns. Arrevillaga makes the frequent scene changes and transitions fun. In most productions props are changed methodically and fast, whilst here scene changes are done to music and are almost rhythmic. The production embraces what is a necessary part of theatre and turns normally dead time into a fun and energetic performance.
A production of Henry IV rises or falls on its Falstaff, and Roberto Soto's interpretation of the fat, boastful and incompetent knight is brilliant. He leads young Prince Hal (Constantino Moran) around different taverns, drinking tequila, and the haphazard way he prepares for the fighting is comic genius, as is the way he is routed with ease.
Moran's Hal is sidelined, constantly in awe of Falstaff, and several of his lines are cut from the script. He is shy and effeminate, not surprising given Falstaff's oversized and loud performance. It is not until the end of the production that Hal becomes more assured and confident, setting the scene for Part II, when he comes into his own.
The king (Marco Antonio Garcia) is fun and almost magical. He is revered, but it is fair to say his performance, sweeping across the stage with a booming voice, is more Gandalf than king. He has a magical quality, down from the robes he wears to the fact he wields his sceptre with as much relish as his sword. Hotspur (David Calderon) is intense, and perhaps encapsulates a different side of Mexico than Falstaff. Whilst Falstaff is interpreted with all the negative Blazing Saddles (and now Top Gear) stereotypes associated with Mexico, Hotspur is dashing and proud, intense and played with flair.
The rest of the cast is solid; however the cast may be too small. Considering the range of characters in the play (there are over twenty) there are only eight different actors, which kills off some of the diversity required. The delivery is slow and pronounced, and the language barrier is overcome with great facial expressions and a conscious focus on expression through movement, making the play is easy to follow. The Mexican Spanish accent is beautiful to listen to, and is wonderfully expressive.
Overall, this production of Henry IV, Part I honours the text, and, while not ignoring the negatives (death, war, pestilence), creates a festive atmosphere. Arrevillaga is considered an up-and-coming director, and with this wonderful interpretation, it is hard to disagree.