Henry IV poster 1982
“An epic start to the RSC’s new era” Evening Standard, 10 June 1982
Fifty years apart, Henry IV Parts I and II were the opening productions of the newly built Stratford Memorial Theatre in 1932, forerunner of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and the new Barbican Theatre in 1982. Here we see the poster for the 1982 production directed by Trevor Nunn, who was praised for his skilful staging of the patchwork of scenes with their emphasis on social realism. Like Terry Hands’ 1975 Production, Nunn focused on Prince Hal’s development but he also demonstrated how the individual is crushed by the wider political reality. Complementing the direction were David Hersey’s evocative lighting and Guy Woolfenden’s memorable music, which conveyed both religious and military themes.
Sharing Rumour's lines
“Open your ears, for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?” Rumour, Induction
Imaginatively, the introductory lines of the play, which are spoken ‘Rumour’, were shared by the company. This image from the stage manager’s prompt-book shows the abbreviations used for each actor, so we know who spoke what. Sometimes a line was spoken by several actors as in the case of line seven “the which in every language I pronounce” (SM = Shelia Mitchell, CT = Colin Tarrant, KW = Kevin Wallace, DF = Dexter Fletcher, MA = Miles Anderson, GT = Graham Turner, BB = Bernard Brown). On other occasions a line was spoken by the whole company, as with the last three lines. The whole effect must have produced an impressive opening to the production.
A dissolute duo
“I love thee better than I love e’er a scurvy young boy of them all” Doll Tearsheet, Act 2 Scene 4
Trevor Nunn’s sharp social observations were evident in the Eastcheap tavern scenes. This was a world inhabited by an increasingly melancholic Falstaff , for whom drinking and vice were mere diversions, as well as “a psychopathic punk Pistol (Mike Gwilym), a Doll Tearsheet full of fire (Gemma Jones) and a Mistress Quickly full of gin (Mariam Karlin)” Jack Tinker, Daily Mail, 10 June 1982. In this production photo, Doll Tearsheet (Gemma Jones) and Falstaff (Joss Ackland) enjoy a tender moment together, oblivious that they are being spied on by Prince Hal and Poins.
Crime and depravity have always attracted popular interest, so it’s not surprising that this arresting illustration, reproduced in the 1982 programme, would have resonated with Shakespeare’s contemporaries. The image is a woodcut from the frontispiece of Robert Greene’s Disputes between a Hee Conny-catcher, and a Shee Conny-catcher (1592), in which a strikingly dressed woman with the face of a weasel is talking with a man with a ‘cony’ (rabbit) face. This is a reference to the ingenious methods used by some prostitutes to part gullible customers from their money. Robert Greene (c1558-92) was a contemporary playwright of Shakespeare who is best known for referring disparagingly to him as an “upstart crow”.
“Age and decay in the late afternoon sunlight” Michael Billington, Guardian, 11 June 1982
Another slice of English society was illustrated in Justice Shallow’s rural Gloucestershire. Robert Eddison’s Shallow, seen in this production image, was a loveable ditherer who was surprisingly adept at handling a rifle, a feat which drew applause from audiences on occasions, according to the Stage Manager’s reports. If his recollections of his youth at the Inns of Court are to be believed, this pillar of the local establishment was once known as “mad Shallow” and “lusty Shallow”. He paints a nostalgic picture of himself as a rakish dare-devil who once knew where the best “bona-robas” (attractive prostitutes) lived. Falstaff takes great delight in deflating this exaggerated image.
“O Polished Perturbation! Golden Care” Prince Hal, Act 4 Scene 2
The emotional climax of the production was the deathbed scene, where Prince Hal seizes the crown from his supposed dead father, as shown in this production photo. The subsequent reconciliation scene was the only time that Prince Hal (Gerard Murphy) and his father (Patrick Stewart) bonded and was the turning point in the prince’s growth from impulsive hedonist to sober sovereign. James Fenton’s review for the Sunday Times, 13 June 1982, summed up a key theme of the production: “Father and Son: the burden of the hollow crown”.
“Presume not that I am the thing I was” Henry V, Act 5 Scene 5
Gerard Murphy as Prince Hal reached a milestone on his road to political maturity when he was crowned Henry V. In this production image, we see the new king, beautifully attired in his majestic robes, delivering a devastating rejection of Falstaff (Joss Ackland), who has interrupted the stately proceedings with his embarrassing shouts. John Napier’s galleried set provided different vantage points for the onstage spectators, resembling the jetties (projecting upper stories) of the timber-framed buildings which were so common in Shakespeare’s London. The real Henry V was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 9 April 1413, on a snowy day. In the Chantry Chapel of Westminster Abbey are two carvings which depict Henry V’s coronation.
Finale and curtain call
“O thou fond many, with what loud applause” Archbishop of York, Act 1 Scene 3
Here we see the blocking (position on stage of performer) for the Finale and curtain call, which was filed at the back of the stage manager’s prompt-book. As in the case of Rumour’s lines, seen earlier, the performers’ names have been abbreviated to initials. The vertical line indicates the performer in the centre who leads the bow, in this case GM (Gerard Murphy) or JA (Joss Ackland). The curtain call, which became widespread in the 19th century, is the moment of mutual recognition between the performer and the audience at the end of a performance. The exact positions (blocking) are generally worked out by the director and practised in rehearsals, then recorded by the stage manager.