Following the success of the Mexican Henry IV--Part I, the Argentinian company Elkafka Espacio Teatral produces a lackluster and dull sequel in Henry IV--Part II. Part I was a delight to see, with innovative staging, a real sense of fun and some brilliant performances, but Part II is particularly unclear about what image it wishes to portray. Director Ruben Szuchmacher goes for a modern tale that starts off slowly but picks up towards the end.
The costumes and overall interpretation is a modernist approach. All the sheriff's men and soldiers wear high-visibility jackets and oversized police hats, with CCTV cameras everywhere. In fact, this production comes across as more of a satirical interpretation of Britain than a prism through which to view how Argentineans view their own country. As well as the CCTV cameras and the high-visibility jackets (and also the rain), the whole costume design and staging seem to show the worst parts of Britain.
The King’s entourage and loyal nobles are deliberately set to be a class above the rest, a not so subtle dig at Britain’s class system. They are all dressed in suits, mackintoshes, blazers and bowler hats, in the mold of business people from the 1930s. However this style is offset by modern sunglasses. In contrast to the besuited nobles, Falstaff and his crew are dressed in tracksuits, punk and biker wear, and give off an anarchic and revolutionary vibe.
The contrast is cringey and obvious, but at the same time made successful by the actors' movements and actions. Szchumacher has the King’s men walking around without emotion, sneaking around the castle at night to plot and scheme in a professional way. Falstaff’s men, on the other hand, charge around the place looking for change. Like the Mexican Part I, it is Falstaff who steals the show. Horatio Pena’s depiction is considerably deeper and more intense than Roberto Soto’s comic version, and this versatility works. Clad in a tartan jacket and jeans, he looks odd, but his performance is impressive.
The staging is bare, and the few fight scenes are unrealistic, too fast and messy. It is kept as simple as possible in order for the audience to appreciate the language and the expressive movements of the actors (a key part in helping the non Spanish speakers in the audience). On its own this is not an issue, but the rest of the cast play their roles in a one dimensional fashion and talk far too quietly to be appreciated. The contrast with the great visual spectacle of the Mexican Part I is severe. The best scene is undoubtedly the deathbed scene, as the emotions come forth. Lautoro Vil plays Hal as an adolescent repressed English lord (think Brideshead Revisited) who has to fight to keep the ‘stiff upper lip’ going. However the mask slips on the deathbed scene, when he takes the crown from his dying father. The way they reconcile and put aside their differences is touching, and with the added assistance of the cold rain, atmospheric.
With the exception of the booming Pena, the cast is too quiet throughout. This problem is evident from the start, however the fact is emphasised further by the pouring rain which makes a surprising racket in the all-wooden globe, and it was disappointing that the company failed to realise the problem, even at the interval. Henry IV--Part II is a passable production, with flashes of brilliance, however the simplicity of the depictions and its unclear conception make it confusing and plain.