Live fast and die young. Unless your name is Jack Falstaff, in which case live so fast you hope it never catches up with you. Until it does and you’re old and fat and cursing the company you’ve kept.
That’s the pervading spirit in Hidden Room Theatre’s Henry IV, Part 1, a tight one-hour, seven-actor cut by our own Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen. Breaking from the usual bar on electronic instruments in the Blackfriars, this Henry IV is a rebellious hard-rock jam session, featuring a strung-out junkie of a Bardolph that strums an electric guitar while providing recaps of what the show has cut, a gloriously leopard-print clad Falstaff, and a Hal that falls somewhere between David Bowie and The Sex Pistols’s Johnny Rotten.
The cuts favor the Eastcheap crowd to be certain; there’s only two scenes with Hotspur, and three with the titular king. The amazing thing is that with just seven actors, there’s only two doubles: Mistress Quickly and Westmoreland, and the King and the sheriff. The electricity of this show’s energy is certainly not limited to its instrumentation (sparks literally flew during the battle between Hal and Hotspur), with the most important bonds being the ones forged by the bandmates so to speak. The pranks and bickering are what we’ve come to expect from this play perhaps, but what I found myself most surprised by was the genuine sense of affection and forgiveness in such a rough and raw concept. We have here a quieter Falstaff. One who is still a braggart, but one who just isn’t the rock star he used to be, while Hal is just getting started.