Last night, we went down to Stratford again for our last play of the season at the Royal Shakespeare Company: Henry IV, Part II. The performance was a little unusual this time. David Warner (Falstaff) was sick, and the understudy (Julius D'Silva) hadn't thoroughly learned the part yet. It's perfectly understandable: the same 34 actors have been performing 264 different roles in the RSC's complete cycle of the History Plays. Henry IV, Part II is the penultimate play to join the repertoire, and has only been running for two or three weeks, and this was the first time that understudies were needed. In any case, poor Julius D'Silva had to come out as Falstaff holding the script in his hand for the entire play. The remarkable thing was that, in many ways, he was better than David Warner—he has a clearer, louder voice, and a greater sense of vitality. He was given a well-deserved solo bow at the end for his remarkable high-wire act.
The last play of the History Plays cycle to join the repertoire will be Henry V, at the end of October. It would be tempting to fly back to England in March, when all eight plays in the cycle will be performed, in historical order, over three days. We've seen six of the eight plays, and one of the highlights of the year for me was seeing the three parts of Henry VI in a single 24-hour period.
Here are all of the plays we've seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company since the beginning of September 2006: The Tempest (with Patrick Stewart), Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, Merry Wives: The Musical (with Judi Dench), A Midsummer Night's Dream, Henry VI, Parts I, II and III, The Seagull (with Ian McKellen), King Lear (with Ian McKellen), Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and II.