Henry IV : REVIEWED

Director Mattia Mariotti is infamous for a peculiar ritual that is a regular part of his audition process. He throws oranges at his potential cast, and gauges their reactions. It leads him to find a particular kind of actor: spontaneous, improvisational, and a little bit eccentric.

Take those qualities, and run them up to the nth degree, and you’ll start to have an idea of what a Mattia play looks like. This was Mariotti’s last play in St Andrews and his directorial swan song is an embrace of madness and raw spectacle that defies the metrics by which he usually judge theatre.  In Mariotti’s world, plot and continuity are subjugated to the strength of the individual image or sound, creating a series of enthralling moments that just happen to be strung together by a story.

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So I could talk about Henry IV as a student translation (George Murnaghan-Gordon) of an Italian play by Pirandello, about an aristocrat, who, after falling off a horse, has spent 12 years convinced he is the 900 year old Henry IV of Germany. I could tell you how historical context is awkwardly shoe-horned into the play, or how Henry’s monologues became somewhat repetitive towards the end, as the play forces its “Is he crazy, or is he the only sane one?” theme down the audience’s throat. But those elements contributed very little to my actual reception of the play.

More relevant to the response, I think, is the dynamism of the blocking. The stage rarely if ever had less than five people on it, and often far more, and all of them are usually moving, each in the own distinct manner. The Privy councilors excel in this area, roving the stage, or popping out from underneath platforms or tables, and each moving with an engaging physical distinctiveness, from the reserved walk displayed by Benji Bailey, to the Hunchback of Notre Dame-like drag of David Baird.

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The characters constantly interact as well. While the dialogue goes on, life continues for the other characters, leading to moments like the one in which Alasdair Bird stretched himself off AJ Brennan to read a magazine. Though they contribute to the overall sensation of chaos I found so intriguing, they often distracted from the meat of the play. That’s not the only thing I found off putting. The play is loaded with instances of dry-humping, butt-slapping, and one man who occasionally jacks off a trumpet. While initially funny, it becomes over done, and just uncomfortable.

But in terms of physicality, top billing goes to Dominic Kimberlin’s Henry, who spends an entire long scene, contorting his body and throwing his weight around in a manner akin to that of a broken puppet. In the second half, though he continues to handle the long difficult monologues with some aptitude, Kimberlin’s interest fades while standing on two feet.

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Mariotti’s chaotic scene is emphasized by dramatic choices in scenery, lights and music, which ranged from gothic chanting to choir singing, to a strangely catchy tune that starts any time a certain chair is sat in. Henry IV is a Mattia play, madness incarnate. The wildness of it all is perhaps best exemplified by the moment in which Kimberlin, hailing his people from atop a platform, produces an orange, and splits it, squeezing the juices onto his make-up covered face. Yes, Mariotti has finally broken the orange, just like they broke the mold when they made him. So I’m forced to use his own director’s note to sum up his achievements, a note that simply reads, “Yes, yes, beautiful.”

Image credit: Gala Netylko 

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