The Rose in Bankside is more of an archaeological site than a real working theatre so the shows put on here, on what is essentially a small viewing platform, are more like demonstrations — or séances perhaps, attempting to conjure up the ghosts buried down in the 16th-century ruins below (boards once trod by Shakespeare and fellow actors Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe).
The spirited production of Henry IV Part One playing at the moment is a case in point. Shakespeare’s grand picture-of-England has been stripped back to just five characters and the running time reduced to a swift 80 minutes (since there is no public loo in the building). The battle for England thus becomes almost abstract with a modernised office setting (think clipboards, laptops and power suits) suggesting that Hal, Hotspur and Henry are vying to be CEO rather than king. Falstaff meanwhile, is turned into an office joker with a South Park tie, swigging gin from a hip flask and twerking away to Blurred Lines when no-one is looking.
It’s a radical update that somehow suits the fact that the medieval Rose now sits in the basement of an office block and is penned in by concrete (though there are major refurbishment plans afoot). Falstaff’s great speech on the uselessness of honour, for example, feels like exactly the kind of double-speak spouted by sharks like Gordon Gekko and Jordan Belfort during motivational management meetings.
There is much to enjoy here. The concertinaed version of the play preserves all the highlights and the acting is strong; director Michael Yale is commanding as King Henry and Andrew Young shines as Hal. The juddering finale is also impressive with desks and Filofaxes flung about the place amid expertly-choreographed fight sequences — impressive work by Lyndall Grant and particularly alarming given the tight space and proximity of the small audience. There is also an unexpected a capella rendition of Shakira’s song Empire just before it all kicks off. It’s a delightfully unusual take on one of Shakespeare’s very best plays in a fascinating setting.
Thrice Ninth‘s Henry IV Part One is on at The Rose Theatre until Saturday 9 August, tickets are £12 (with £10 concessions). Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.