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"There’s something about putting these fighting words into the mouths of women that makes us listen with newborn ears for the ring of absurdity and desperation within. This production reminds us that casting against the grain can be a potent tool in theater...They also bring to the production the combustible energy of pent-up souls who have finally been allowed a source of physical release...It’s an exultant spirit of freedom with which these captive women burn." Full Review
"One would think that this story of a top dog, challenged for supremacy on several fronts, would have a special resonance in an environment as tenuous as prison. Instead, it feels more like a fashionable package in the age of 'Orange Is the New Black'...The acting really is stellar...This is an excellent opportunity to see top-notch actors perform a classic Shakespearean history. But if you're expecting it to say something insightful about the prison-industrial complex, you're in for a disapp... Full Review
"At times, it’s unclear whether we’re watching a well-acted, accessible 'Henry IV' that just happens to be set in a prison, or an unstable, rough-hewn version being acted by female prisoners...While there are dry patches in the intermission-free night (a bit over two hours), the frame still gives you something to think about, and the cast is a lively, diverse mix of veterans and fresh faces." Full Review
"Some of the opening beats are muddled and even those familiar with the play might have initial difficulty sorting out the characters and the story. The play does eventually acquire more persuasive force, but frustratingly it keeps breaking its own rules…All this fudging seems to point to a problem with the framing structure and the way it may impede rather than excite the storytelling. There’s a lot of invention here and a lot of movement, though not ultimately much emotional power." Full Review
"Unfortunately, the prison setting, while certainly novel, adds little to our appreciation of the play…It's all very silly and distracting, and a shame, really...Harriet Walter reaffirms her status among the great Shakespearean actors with her compellingly forceful turn in the title role…The company's previous production, 'Julius Caesar,' worked somewhat better because the contrast between the onstage action and the framing device was less jarring. Here it mainly feels extraneous and trivial." Full Review
"The framing device sometimes acts as a straitjacket on these skilled players…Walter's Henry is a complex, commanding figure…This is a performance that can stand up to any of the Henrys I have seen…Too often, we're noticing Lloyd's staging ideas rather than the narrative they are meant to clarify…As a result, this 'Henry IV' is both tantalizing and something of a missed opportunity." Full Review
"Strong performances and clever touches abound, making it a worthy if not revelatory experience…Much of the cast is excellent…Women barely figure here, so padding a scene to target one of the few female characters and have it sting doesn't really make sense to me. It certainly doesn't illuminate this play…Yet it's the finale that really falls flat. Still, the ensemble! The inventive staging! And the King! Walter holds our attention with ease." Full Review
"The major triumph of this triumphant undertaking is Lloyd's work with the actors. Harriet Walter, in the title role as usurping King Henry, proves she's not only a first-rate Shakespearean in female roles. She's also a first-rate Shakespearean actor in men's roles." Full Review
"Though the conceit is carried out in numerous ways, some of which border on kitsch, it is more than just a gimmick...The acting, where permitted to be so, is thrillingly successful. But insofar as the production is also a serious attempt to see what new meanings and colors a female perspective, and a prisoner’s perspective, might uncover in the material, it is hampered by a countervailing tone I can only describe as cutesy…By overdoing the concept, the production undermines it." Full Review
"Lloyd never offers a clear explanation for the prison setting. It appears that the women are enacting the play as a kind of educational exercise, although some of it hits the women hard emotionally, which the guards may not have predicted...After a while, you just go along with the concept, which brings a rough vigor and punk aesthetic to the familiar drama. It also turns the tables on the Elizabethan tradition of all-male troupes performing Shakespeare." Full Review
"Director Phyllida Lloyd used a similar framing for 2013's 'Julius Caesar' also at St. Ann's, but it is less successful here. It is not always clear when the prisoners are being prisoners and when they are playing Shakespeare…Harriet Walter is sleekly powerful as both Henry the Fourth and a prison kingpin...The show runs a fairly quick two-and-a-half hours with no intermission and the trimming gives quite a different spin to the play." Full Review
"The historical personalities are obscure now, but the conflicts are not: fights for money, power, and respect. Given this pressure-cooker atmosphere, English director Phyllida Lloyd's decision to stage her radically slimmed-down 'Henry IV' in a women's prison makes sense...Call it Orange Is the New Bard. The play's brutal politics are at home there — one of the few surviving pockets of violent honor culture. And watching an all-female cast embody hormonal machismo exposes the dangerous peaco... Full Review
for a previous production "It’s an insightful approach, with plenty of layers to gnaw through, and a setting that demands — and gets — gutsy performances. But there’s something presumptuous about speculating what women prisoners might make of Shakespeare, then speaking on their behalf...It doesn’t all cohere — class, in particular, is raised and forgotten — and it never feels totally authentic in its prison setting, but Lloyd’s production is never, ever dull." Full Review
for a previous production "As a production, it is vigorously entertaining and a welcome release from the tonal monotony of male-dominated Shakespeare. But the question of why a group of women prisoners should be doing this particular play is never answered. The propulsive action also means there is little time to explore the darker aspects of the text." Full Review
for a previous production "It proves terrific: an urgent, mischievous and subtly layered response to Shakespeare’s great plays. Rough yes, but revelatory. These are dramas about rebellion, leadership, and family; about a youth pulled between two father figures; about who runs England. The setting and casting bring these concerns intensely alive." Full Review
for a previous production "That prison setting does become a bit of a wearying trap for this version. Though it may provide a useful context for why it is being performed by an all-female cast, Lloyd strains too hard to follow it through. We're constantly reminded that it's a show-within-a-show that we're watching, and that creates distance; it's all play acting. Here we're not so much gender-blind as made strenuously gender-aware by it all." Full Review
for a previous production "If you really know the text, this production of 'Henry IV' fascinates. Its commentary on the challenges and concerns of life inside are necessary and relevant. But sadly if you're not completely au fait with the text, you might get a little lost." Full Review
for a previous production "As so often with theatre’s gender-switching games, fresh insights are shed; so much so that I would have preferred Lloyd to give us more, and take longer about it...This production is about more than just giving the sisters more work, better parts. If it’s empowering for a woman to play a man then it’s also liberating for a man to watch a woman do so: the emphasis shifts to the similarities between the sexes, and the ubiquity of power struggles." Full Review
for a previous production "Opponents of all-female casts or doubters who feel that the great classical male roles should kept immune from women will have their work cut out maintaining such a position of entrenched scepticism after this fresh, bracingly persuasive staging of an abridged 'Henry IV...' There is definite charge given to the proceedings." Full Review
for a previous production "Once the play starts, the cavils for the most part fall away. There’s an exhilaration that comes with watching a gifted cast of women tear into the male preserve of these texts. It’s telling that director Phyllida Lloyd has in both instances chosen plays with notably few female parts so that the gender reassignment is doubly repaid." Full Review
for a previous production "I didn’t love it. But I’m learning to live with it...The bottom line is that the acting is sensational...I’m not sure director Phyllida Lloyd’s comedy stylings will ever convince, but you have to hand it to the woman: her ways are maverick, but by god she gets results." Full Review
for a previous production "This all-female take on Shakespeare is bold, strange and mostly a success. It condenses 'Henry IV’s two parts into two hours, focusing mainly on the first play and its examination of kingship and the sheer abundance of language. Director Phyllida Lloyd has crafted a production that is grungy and rebellious." Full Review
for a previous production "This is, let’s be clear, an inventive and exciting production, but I couldn’t help feel that it tries to explain itself too much, to find ways of accounting for the fact that all these women are together on stage, instead of just revelling in it – because it is a thing worth revelling in...Part of me just wishes they didn’t feel the need to justify and contextualise the casting in this way – because, regardless of setting, the cast are amazing." Full Review
for a previous production "What really matters is that this modern-day framing device enables clear, galvanised, highly physical playing from its cast. There is some collateral damage in the editing process. I have seen productions of this play that have moved me more. Yet this production reminds us of the possibilities that gender-blind casting can bring." Full Review
for a previous production "Brash and bold in style and tone, the genius of this particular production is in the use of popular songs and music and also in the cast...This production feels fresh, contemporary and exciting...It would have been nice to have seen an all female production that didn't feel like it had to explain why there were no male actors...But, there is still plenty to enjoy and admire about this production." Full Review
See it if You love contemporary, experimental productions of Shakespeare. Very well acted and staged.
Don't see it if You're looking for the traditional or can't handle an all-female cast.
See it if you look for original, unusual productions with a very specific point of view. All-female Shakespeare is unusual and to be celebrated.
Don't see it if you want a straight Bard production with no added layers of interpretation, or an unedited Henry. 2h15 with no intermission, forewarning.
See it if u love Shakespeare & super acting. Harriet Walter starts things off brilliantly w/ her speech as King Henry IV's. 2 1/4 hours later you're
Don't see it if well into the chronicles portrayed here in the "Greater Tetralogy." Can't help a Readers' Digest-y feeling from time to time. It's aces!
See it if You want to see a non-traditional version of Shakespeare. You want a show w/political intrigue. You want to see great acting.
Don't see it if You don't like Shakespeare. You prefer more traditional interpretations of Shakespeare. You don't want to travel to Brooklyn.
See it if Enjoyed the Donmar Julius Caesar, want to see an innovative but fully respectful production, would appreciate the mastery of Walter & Dunne
Don't see it if Can't see beyond the actors' gender to their humanity, looking for word-faithful Shakespeare or no Shakespeare at all, hate Chelsea FC
See it if You like Shakespeare & want to see a truly unique production; you are interested in seeing a production based in a Woman's prison.
Don't see it if You have a small bladder, or if you have trouble sitting for too long. It's well over 2 hours with no intermission. Worth it, but pee first!
See it if Obviously great writing but the production was too gimmicky despite some very good acting. Many of the gimmicks obscured the basic theme.
Don't see it if You wish to see Shakespeare unalloyed and free of too many gimmicks.
See it if You love Shakespeare but also Orange is the New Black, you love a diverse all-female cast, you are a Harriet Walter or Donmar Warehouse fan
Don't see it if You don't like people messing with your Shakespeare, you can't handle strong women, you can't understand thick British accents.
See it if Enjoy seeing Shakespeare done with a fresh eye and high energy. Jade Anouk as Hotspur! Harriet Ward as King! Do review the plot beforehand.
Don't see it if You are new to the play (review the plot!) and if you can't sit for 2H 15 without a break.
See it if You are excited by the all-female take on the play. This was done well and yielded some good performances and a few interesting moments.
Don't see it if You want good production values. You dislike meta-theatrical tinkering with the play.
See it if You want to see a unique and thoroughly entertaining modern staging of a Shakespeare classic.
Don't see it if Modern staging matched with traditional Shakespearean dialogue turns you off.
See it if You are interested in seeing some masterful women play roles they are not normally afforded. You enjoy meta-theatrical devices.
Don't see it if You expect to fully understand the dynamics of the "play without a play" of the female prisoners themselves.
See it if You love Shakespeare, you wish you loved Shakespeare, you're looking for something to make Shakespeare feel relevant
Don't see it if You're looking for a traditional staging of the play
See it if you want to hear clear diction and sometimes clarity of the Shakespeare text. Also if you enjoy watching experimental concepts, not working.
Don't see it if you're expecting a revelation. Presumably women prisoners doing Shakespeare, but the prison is never believable - and Shakespeare only okay
See it if you want to watch an outstanding Harriet Walter and female cast in a highly charged and original interpretation of Shakespeare.
Don't see it if you don't approve of ambitious directors messing with your Bard of Avon using gimmicks and a somewhat strained prison/power metaphor.