Scrap Paper Shakespeare’s decision to tackle not one but all four of the Henriad plays (Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV and Henry V) for its final show of the season could be seen as either very brave or completely foolhardy.Yet despite its lengthy run time – a full three hours and then some, this Prince Hal does offer a fuller focus on the wayward, fun-loving prince and his journey to the throne. Adapted and directed by Emma Szuba, company founder, this version becomes less a history lesson, and more of a coming-of-age story.
Szuba’s ambitious undertaking includes cycling her group of seven through more than 40 roles. With the exception of Prince Hal assigned to a single performer, each actor is swiftly changing character from scene to scene and sometimes even within a scene. Quick donning of accessories and accents effectively differentiates the characters and keeps this cast in constant motion.
Shaun Schneider, tasked with portraying the Prince from his debauched days to his crowning, embraces the challenge with an abundant amount of energy, conveying the frat boy spirit of a youth who knows his days of party are limited. He’s being Hal until life forces him to be an adult Henry.
Hal’s early carousing is done in the company of one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, the fun-loving, king of the party, Falstaff. Michael Foley appears to be enjoying the role of the boozy friend who’s up for anything, the more nefarious the better. Foley’s Falstaff swaggers and plays to the crowd; he’s the drunk you want to be around.
Abbe Fralix, as King Henry IV, conveys all the grave despair of a parent who has an errant child. She’s then much less serious as Pistol, one of Hal’s drinking companions. Miranda Curtis gives a terrific performance as Hotspur, the hot-headed, ambitious rebel, and does a fine turn in her other roles. Naima Said exhibited some great physical comedy as Bardolph, and was also hilarious as Katherine, Henry’s future wife. Rebecca Ashley Jones gave a lot of flounce and sauce to her Mistress Quickly, and brought the right amount of humor to some of her other characters as well. Jaye Bullock tagged in on a number of roles although at times their voice failed to carry their words to the crowd.
For the most part, Szuba’s intention for this to be a “fast-paced take” on Hal becoming Henry succeeds. The first half of the show held together well, but the second part seemed to slowly go a bit off the rails. Many scenes felt drawn out with long rambling speeches, while others felt overdone to the point of farce. Some of these could have been excised to tighten the narrative and shorten the overall length of the show.
Setting the show in a brewery, while seemingly a good idea to reflect Hal’s folly, works less well when some patrons insist on having their own conversations. However, the outdoor setting worked well and provided the performers with plenty of stage space, especially for the fight scenes.
Scrap Paper Shakespeare is to be complimented for not playing it safe, pushing for a richer enjoyment of the bard. It’ll be fun to see what they do next.
Scrap Paper Shakespeare’s production of Prince Hal runs through November 4. For more information visit https://scrappapershakespeare.org/shows.