Tafline Steen on taking Player Kings to the West End

Adapted and directed by Robert Icke from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Player Kings sees a divided country, leadership crumbling and corruption in the air – that sounds quite topical, doesn’t it?

Currently running at Manchester Opera House following dates at New Wimbledon Theatre earlier his month, it arrives in the West End at the Noël Coward Theatre from 1 April with a cast that includes Ian McKellen as Falstaff, Toheeb Jimoh as Hal and Richard Coyle as King Henry IV.

Alongside them is Tafline Steen who takes on the dual role of Tearsheet and Lady Percy. We caught up with Steen to get her views on the adaptation and returning to the West End following her performance in King Charles III at Wyndham’s Theatre.

Q&A with Tafline Steen

What can you tell us about this new play, based on Henry IV Parts 1 and 2?

It’s Shakespeare’s text, but it’s slick and it’s got bite. More like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, rather than bloomers and doublets. The original Henry IV plays have big, chunky themes like honour and power and love, which we’ve hopefully distilled into Player Kings. But maybe “expect the unexpected” is the best answer.

What was it that drew you to the production?

The above really – just really good storytelling. From Rob [Icke], Hildegard [Bechtler], Shakespeare, the whole lot.

How have you approached playing Tearsheet and Lady Percy?

My approach has just been to serve the play and text as best I can. It’s a man’s world so I’ve wanted to make sure both women are as three-dimensional as possible. They’re wonderfully different characters, but there’s a streak of fire in both of them which hopefully I’ve honoured.

What has it been like working with Robert Icke, Ian McKellen and the rest of the cast and creative team in rehearsals?

The rehearsal process has been surprisingly relaxed for such a big play. It feels collaborative. And that we, as a company, are all striving to do the play the justice it deserves.

How does it feel to be returning to the West End?

It feels wonderful to be back in the West End, especially after the pandemic, doing Shakespeare, potentially for people who’ve never seen this Shakespeare, or any Shakespeare before. A real privilege.

Player Kings is at Manchester Opera House until 23 March, then at the Noël Coward Theatre from 1 April to 22 June