Review: Player Kings


by Mike Matthaiakis

In “Player Kings,” Ian McKellen and Toheeb Jimoh deliver powerhouse performances that delve deep into the complexities of Shakespeare’s timeless characters, Falstaff and Hal. Directed by Robert Icke, this modern adaptation of the two “Henry IV” plays, offers a fresh perspective on the tumultuous relationship between the aging knight and the conflicted prince.

McKellen’s portrayal of Falstaff is nothing short of extraordinary. Despite his advanced age, McKellen brings a youthful energy to the role, capturing the character’s delusions of grandeur with nuance and depth. His interactions with Jimoh’s Hal are electric, brimming with tension and vulnerability. Jimoh, in turn, delivers a haunting portrayal of the young prince, conveying a sense of bitterness and anger that is palpable throughout his performance. McKellen is great. He dominates the production with his full-of-energy performance. His portrayal is a testament to his status as one of the greatest actors alive and “Player Kings” serves as a fitting showcase for his remarkable talent.

Icke’s direction is masterful, stripping away the layers of tradition to reveal the raw emotional core of Shakespeare’s text. The production is sleek and minimalist, allowing the performances to take centre stage. While some may miss the flashy theatrics of Icke’s previous work, the psychological intensity of “Player Kings” more than makes up for it.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with standout performances from Samuel Edward-Cooke as Hotspur and Clare Perkins as Mistress Quickly. Each actor brings depth and complexity to their respective roles, adding depth to the rich tapestry of Shakespeare’s world.

Despite its length (about 3 hours and 45 minutes with a 20 minute interval), “Player Kings” doesn’t feel slow or meandering. Icke’s tight pacing keeps the audience engaged, building towards a breath-taking finale that leaves a lasting impression. Yes, the 2nd part is not as well written as the 1st part, but that’s not Icke’s problem. 

Overall, “Player Kings” is a triumph of modern theatre, offering a fresh interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tale of power, betrayal, and redemption. With stellar performances and innovative direction, it’s a production that demands to be seen.

Until June 22 –  Noel Coward Theatre.