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The show must go on

Robert Icke’s Player Kings is a modern take on Shakespeare’s classic tale of Henry IV, with parts 1 and 2 fused together.

The show is essentially comprised of three stories: King Henry IV, who has defeated Richard II to win the crown, the rebellion of the Northern nobles, led by Hotspur, and the heir to the throne Hal, who prefers to spend his time drinking in taverns with Falstaff and his friends.

Sir Ian McKellen was originally cast in the role of Sir John Falstaff, who is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most comic characters.

He is hilarious because on one hand he is idle, greedy and a drunkard prone to telling tall stories, while on the other he is quick witted enough to get exactly what he wants.

However, after a bad fall during the London shows McKellen was advised to pull out of the reminder of the tour, and so the role was taken by his understudy David Semark.

Taking over a role as an understudy is a daunting enough prospect, but to step into the shoes of Ian McKellen must be twice as scary.

But from the moment Semark appeared on stage, slumped drunkenly in an armchair, he proved he was more than up for the task.

Indeed it was hard to believe that he had not been playing the role for the entire run so far.

I must admit at first I was disappointed that I would not be watching McKellen as Falstaff, but now I feel very privileged to have seen Semark work his magic on the character.

And magic it was, as his portrayal of the blustering buffoon had the audience in stiches.

There is a particularly hilarious moment at the end of the first act during a battle scene, where Hal discovers Falstaff’s apparently lifeless body.

Sadly he laments that “I could have better spared a better man”, and then promises that he will embowel his body.

As he leaves the stage and the curtain starts to lower Falstaff jumps up indignantly shouting ‘embowelled? !?’ as the curtain abruptly jerks upward again.

Semark’s comic timing was spot on, and the look of outrage on his face was priceless.

Another standout performance was Toheeb Jimoh as Prince Hal.

He bought a real boyish charm to his character, making for some very jovial scenes with his roguish friends in the tavern. In contrast, his later scenes on the battlefield showed a fiery nature and that he was a force to be reckoned with.

As the play goes on we see his earlier recklessness diminish and he hardens, as his future as king beckons.

These darker moments were testament to Jimoh’s versatility as an actor, making us like, then fear and finally pity Hal.

Heading up the rebels Samuel Edward-Cook made for a ferocious Hotspur.

He had great stage presence, and strode about the place as if he owned it.

His fits of rage were mighty to behold, and he cut a very striking figure, especially while covered in blood during the battle.

The rapidly aging Henry IV was played by Richard Coyle, who did an excellent job of portraying him from triumphant victory over Richard II, to the shell of himself at the end of his life.

Throughout the play the use of subtitles helped you to keep track of what was going on, and they added the historical facts needed in order to understand the timeline of events being played out in front of you.

The clever use of curtains on an otherwise stark set made the scene changes happen effortlessly.

Don’t let the idea that a Shakespeare play might be too confusing to follow put you off going to see this show.

Player Kings is a truly terrific modern day take on a classic, and you are guaranteed to be laughing in your seats.

Laura Durrant

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THEATRE TICKETS; Player Kings is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, July 6.Tickets available from £15.00 subject to a transaction fee of £3.95 here The play is three hours 40 minutes including and interval
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