The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble is back again this year with another great production staged in the Roma Street Parklands. This year's play is Henry IV, Part 1, which despite its dull name, is a tale of ribald drunken foolishness, criminal adventures, rebellion, desperate sword fights, epic battles and the making of Shakespeare's greatest English hero Henry V.
The way these plays are staged is that they put the audience on the stage with the actors facing out onto the parklands. This allows the production to be both intimate and personal happening right in front of you, but also making use of the wider stage of the parklands itself. How well they do this depends on the opportunities in the play, and for Henry IV, Part 1, it allows for personal stories to up close and personal, including ribald conversation, conspiratorial negotiations and desperate sword fights, while the backdrop creates a space for pomp, ceremony and greater battles.
The audience joins the actors on the stage, under cover
The play itself tells the story of Prince Hal (Harry) who most people know from the later play Henry V. In this play, while his father deals with disquiet, rebellion and insurrection in his kingdom, the young king engages in drunken antics and conspires with and against thieves in robbery to fund more of the same. Here Silvan Rus plays the young prince with charm, humour and a princely air while Rob Pensalfini is the drunken Falstaff, who acts as a father figure while the king is occupied with matters of state.
Silvan Rus as Prince Hal and Rob Pensalfini as Falstaff
Angus Throburn plays the rebel Henry Percy Hotspur as a childish spoiled brat given to tantrums and rages, arguing like a child with friend and foe alike, including himself. Like the prince who has nobility under his playfulness, so too Angus is able to find the nobility in this character which will drive him to carry out his schemes to the bitter end.
One element of a Queensland Shakespeare Production is the band. The actors sing and play instruments before the play and during the interval. When you are wondering around the park at night trying to find the amphitheatre, all you need to do is listen for the music and you know the direction to follow. Whenever possible, they include musical elements into the play itself. How much depends on the play, and they never impose music where it doesn't belong.
The QSE band plays before the performance, during the interval and during the play
Overall the 3 principles carry the play but are well supported by numerous other members of the ensemble. The result is another great production. While Henry IV part 1 doesn't have the reputation of other plays from Shakespeare, or even his other historical works, its combination of humour and antics leading towards rebellion and battles, and the chance for an unruly prince to come of age makes this play worth seeing.
A couple of notes of the Roma Street Parklands
The amphitheatre is in the upper parklands near Wickham Terrace. There is plenty of parking at night and usually on weekends parking isn't too bad. You can come by train, but be aware of the construction work around the station make getting the venue even more confusing. At night the park is well lit and security guards are on patrol, so there is no problem wandering around through the paths as you try to find the venue, but give yourself a little time.
Roma Street Parklands is well lit at night with regular security patrols
For the performance that I attended, some people brought picnic baskets and enjoyed a picnic before the show. For past performances, we have had a barbecue beforehand, though there are also restaurants in the area as well.
There are lots of places to barbecue or picnic in the park before the show
We went on Wednesday evening: the Q & A performance. It felt like being at the Globe in London during the Bard's time. A great evening in a ovely venue. Wrap up warm, it gets cool. Can recommend Farah restaurant for a meal beforehand!