Translated from the original Italian by George Murnaghan-Gordon, Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV went up in the Barron Theatre from the 5 to 7 March. So popular that extra seats had to be added by the theatre staff, the audience was greeted by an eerie mise-en-scène including a clever stain glass window projection and equally appropriate music.
The play tells the story of a man who falls off his horse during a costume fête while dressed in the character of Henry IV, of 12th century Germany, and awakes in a state of madness believing that he truly is the ill fated king. The action begins twenty years later when several people from his past sane life visit and done disguises in an attempt to jolt him out of his madness.
The characters of the ‘Five Privy Councillors’, Henry’s carers, kept the audience rolling with laughter as they joked and performed an impressive range of acrobatic moves across the stage. Outright comedy, including digs at Oktoberfest being held in March and the recent craze for Fifty Shades of Grey were combined with more subtle humour such as ‘The Great Page’ and ‘The Non-Great Page’ spending a great deal of time sitting eating and tossing fruit and biscuits to each other at the back of the stage. It must be noted that their aim was especially good! One of the star pieces of comedy was a chair that when sat on caused ridiculous music to be played and the stage to be bathed in green light while the pages danced.
However, underneath this hilarity, there was a strong current of truth, with issues such as mental health and the relations between male and female characters being explored. The play reached its crescendo when it is revealed that Henry had in fact woken from his madness eight years previously, although continued to pretend he was mad, this circle of 12th century life going on around him to the present day. Even though it is revealed that Henry is not mad in the sense that he believes himself to be a king from centuries past, we continue to question his sanity, especially when the play terminates with the death of the Baron at the hand of Henry. A play with a strong message, Henry IV questions the acceptance of mental illness in society leaving the viewer considering his or her own views on this disease.
When reviewing plays I usually tend to credit one particular actor with a stand out performance. However, every single actor played their roles to the highest quality – a quality that would not have been out of place on a professional stage. Perhaps, a special mention should go to Dominic Kimberlin (Henry IV) for his terrifyingly terrific performance, which included numerous soliloquies performed in Elizabethan verse that according to the translator ‘provided the suggestion of archaism, while still maintaining the language in a form that is recognisable to modern speakers of English.’
Overall, I feel confident in labelling Henry IV as a triumph, Mattia Mariotti (director) and Alberto J C. Micheletti being thoroughly deserved of praise. With two such brilliant minds operating and passing down their knowledge in St Andrews, the theatre scene here has a bright future ahead.