Henry IV Part I Aldwych Theatre poster 1976
In 1975 Terry Hands directed Henry V, then Henry IV Parts I and II. It was the first time since 1966 that the RSC had performed Henry IV. The productions transferred to the Aldwych Theatre, London, in 1976. Here we see the London poster for Henry IV Part 1 featuring Alan Howard as Prince Hal and Emrys James as Henry IV. The set and costumes for the trilogy of history plays were designed by Farrah, who had a successful creative partnership with the company, especially with Terry Hands, in the 1970s and 1980s. The combination of Alan Howard, Terry Hands and (Abd’Elkader) Farrah in these productions was regarded as a great example of actor, director and designer working together.
Director Terry Hands
Terry Hands, pictured above, joined the company in 1966 and was joint Artistic Director with Trevor Nunn in 1978 before becoming sole Artistic Director in 1986.He directed the entire RSC centenary season in 1975 at Stratford-upon-Avon which comprised Henry IV Parts I and II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Critics praised his Henry IV Part I for being a gimmick-free, exciting production, which emphasized human reactions. They also noted his strikingly minimalist staging of the battles, in which opponents wore black leather and gleaming metal as they fought in the mist. The action was enhanced by Farrah’s bare raked stage which resembled “the flight-desk of an aircraft carrier” Michael Billington, Guardian, 25 April 1975, and Stewart Leviton’s atmospheric lighting.
Hotspur gets the point
“Send us your prisoners, or you’ll hear of it.” King Henry IV, Act 1 Scene 3
In this production photo, Henry IV, played by Emrys James, demands the prisoners that Hotspur (Stuart Wilson) is withholding. Emrys James’s portrayal of Henry IV as a cunning self-made politician, prone to erratic outbursts, caught the attention of several critics. He was “a father any son would be glad to escape: a snarling, sardonic, guilt-laden autocrat” with a “hyena-like quality” Irving Wardle, Times, 25 April 1975. A lonely figure, his relationship with his son, Prince Hal, was hampered by his inability to express emotions other than aggression.
A thoughtful prince
Terry Hands stressed Hal’s development throughout the three history plays he directed in 1975. Helping to establish continuity between the plays was Alan Howard who played Hal from prince to monarch. The 1975 season opened with Henry V, so Alan Howard had already played the title role before going back in time to become Prince Hal in Henry IV Part I. Alan Howard’s Hal was a witty young prince caught between two diametrically opposed father figures of the King and Falstaff. The production focused on the difficult central relationship which was emphasized by Terry Hands merging of tavern and court, so that the King and his son, Prince Hal, became observers in each others scenes.
This list of props for the production itemises several weapons. Fighting swords have to be much stronger than costume swords, which are meant to be worn or carried. Before the production opened, there was a problem finding four suitable swords made of sprung steel with an authentic ring for the violent fight between Prince Hal and Hotspur in Act 5 Scene 3. In the end, the RSC borrowed Medieval style German broadswords from the Royal Opera House in London. Many of the weapons seen on-stage today are made in-house by our own Armoury.
“My sword hacked like a hand-saw - ecce signum!” Falstaff, Act 2 Scene 4
In this production photo, Brewster Mason as Falstaff is brandishing a sword with notches on the blade edge and recounting a fictional account of how was set upon by numerous robbers who stole his booty. In the previous image of the props list, there is an entry for “2 LARGE FALSTAFF SWORDS, ONE HACKED”. Brewster Mason was a “gargantuan Falstaff, an empty vessel making lecherous, self-indulgent noises to reaasure himself” Ray Seaton, Express and Star, 25 April 1975. He relished “the simple pleasures in life, sack, sex and getting away with things” Listener, 3 July 1975.
Falstaff's red suede costume
“..that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts…” Prince Hal, Act 2 Scene 4
The Associate Artist Abd’Elkader Farrah (1926-2005) was noted for his bold theatre designs. In this production, the costumes complemented his black tilted platform stage which had an enormous stepladder , where Hal and the King eavesdropped. One of the more exuberant costumes belonged to Falstaff and this image shows the red suede jacket and trousers worn by Brewster Mason. This costume, which forms part of our collection, can be seen in the production photos which precede and follow this image.
Vice and vanity
“This sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh” Prince Hal, Act 2 Scene 4
The director Terry Hands placed the father and son relationship at the heart of his production and in this photo, Hal (Alan Howard) accuses Falstaff of lying about the robbery. Despite the exchange of insults, there seems to be genuine affection in Falstaff’s relationship with Prince Hal. Falstaff embodies animal sensibility, sinful pleasure and self-centred indulgence but he also radiates warmth, whereas Hal’s real father is cold, distant and distainful. The breakdown of domestic relationships echoes the wider political discontent in Henry IV’s realm.