I caught this on television by chance - and am going to get the DVD the moment it's released. It was a total revelation.
Many years ago, I was was a schoolboy (with fresh-scrubbed morning face, who crept snail-like unwillingly to school - natch) who spent several hours in purgatorial tedium as we dissected this play. What we were never told, however, was that Henry IV is FUNNY. Honestly; laugh-out-loud funny. And it's not just slapstick and sight gags grafted onto the Bard's words - the laughs were right there in the text all along; either directly or implied. Shakespeare has Falstaff enter and say, "Empty the jordan." Not very promising on the page - but when you SEE him make his entrance and deliver his line...
On reflection, the reason for this is obvious. Shakespeare didn't write his plays to be read; he wrote them to be performed. There is a world of difference. Similarly, there is a world of difference between dusty textual analysis in the classroom, and the sheer joy of seeing the play come to life on the stage. I really would like to track down my old teachers and explain this to them with the assistance of a variety of blunt objects.
This production was filmed live at London's Globe Theatre. It is performed with vigour, relish and inventiveness - and in period costume, which is just right for a period stage. There is not a weak performance in the production, but two actors must be singled out.
First, William Gaunt as Justice Shallow - an elderly rural justice of the peace, one step shy of senility, but who hasn't quite let ambition die in him; and who remembers with nostalgia the wilder days of his youth. His (on the page) insignificant remarks to Falstaff's page - well, perhaps there was a reason why my teachers didn't explain that bit.
And above all, Roger Allam as Falstaff; the riotous and incorrigible bon-viveur who simply refuses to grow old respectably. He dominates the stage whenever he's on it; a mountain of good cheer and bawdy humour - until his last scene where he dissolves into almost heart-rending pathos.
If, like me, you hated Shakespeare at school, yet are still curious as to why such a fuss is still made of him - this DVD is your answer.