English Shakespeare Company: The Henrys

Sunderland 9 February

"A noble Hotspur gets lost again."

The famed Northumbrian nobleman Henry Percy was an impetuous, impulsive sort of chap who was forever scurrying hither and thither. Not for nothing was he dubbed "Hotspur."

John Price, the actor who will be playing the character in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1 at the Sunderland Empire from Monday is, it seems, also such a man.

This week, accompanied by the fair Lady Percy (Jennie Stoller) and the redoubtable Owen Glendower (Gareth Thomas) he dashed post-haste from Hull in the county of Humberside to Hotspur's seat at Alnwick Castle and back again in a day. A round trip of 300 miles.

On the journey his party managed to get lost in heavy traffic between Hull and York. It was a predicament with which the Hotspur of Shakespeare's play would have identified. At one point in Henry IV Part 1 he exclaims - with the annoyance worthy of a stranded motorist - "I have forgot the map!" The Percy family that has lived at Alnwick castle since medieval times cherishes its connection with Hotspur, who helped place Henry 1V on the English throne and then tried to unseat him.

The gatehouse where Hotspur is reckoned to have been born still stands, and in the castle museum there is a small shield that was found at the battle of Shrewsbury, where Hotspur's rebellion was quashed by the forces of the king....

Not surprisingly, the actors were greatly inspired by the castle. John, whose most enduring North East memory to date is of Spanish City at Whitley Bay, said: "It's thrilling to see the place . It certainly feeds the imagination." John has been using a Geordie accent for Hotspur. On Monday, when he performs for Sunderland's more enlightened audiences he will add the rolling, Northumbrian 'r."


For many science fiction fans Gareth Thomas will always be the fugitive space traveller Blake from the cult TV series Blake's Seven. When asked recently if this role was a milestone in his career he replied it was "more a millstone."

"It was great fun to do but I just wanted something more challenging so I went straight to the Royal Shakespeare Company." He played in Twelfth Night and Anna Christie with the RSC, and has now joined its younger brother the ESC - and this work he does rate as a milestone.

"We had an extraordinary reception on this tour. I have never known anything like it in terms of reviews or from the public and it has a snowballing effect in the company; it makes us feel we are doing something very good."

He puts the success down to the intensity with which the company works as an ensemble, the careful casting of director Michael Bogdanov and Bogdanov's workaholic approach to his job.

During rehearsals he had the company working many 12-hour days in succession. "He builds a very careful scaffolding and then leaves it to us to build the house. Only if we put the attic where the kitchen should be-----(missing bit from the photocopy) But, says Gareth, this innovation is intended to clarify.

"You have to get the language across to an audience. If, for instance, you have ---to the roles of Glendower and Fluellen, is well placed to compare the two Shakespeare companies on the eve of their arrival in the region.

Sunderland Echo

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Last updated on 23rd of November 1997.