Thursday, 21 June 2012

Henry V - Shakespeare's Globe, Wednesday 20th June 2012


Henry hears the legal arguments in favour of his claim to the French crown, and tells the French Ambassador that he will reclaim the former English possessions in France.

In London, the old companions of Henry’s youth – Pistol, Bardolph, Nym, Mistress Quickly and Falstaff’s former page- lament Falstaff’s death. The men and the boy decide to seek their fortunes in the King’s campaign, but are more interested in looting than in fighting. The town of Harfleur is taken, and at the French Court, Princess Katherine learns English from Alice, her lady in waiting. The French send a great force to meet the English army.

At Agincourt, Henry visits his soldiers by night and in disguise. He rejects all representations from the French for ransom and, against enormous odds, engages them in battle and takes Agincourt. When the French regroup, Henry orders the execution of his French prisoners, while the boys left behind to guard the English camp are killed by the French in retaliation.

To reinforce his right to the throne, Henry woos and wins Princess Katherine.

Chorus/Queen – Brid Brennan
Exeter – Nigel Cooke
Pistol – Sam Cox
The Dauphin - Kurt Egyiawwan
Gower – Matthew Flynn
King of France/Nym – David Hargreaves
York – Beruce Khan
MacMorris – James Lailey
Fluellen – Brendan O’Hea
Henry – Jamie Parker
Bardolph – Paul Rider
Boy/Katherine – Olivia Ross
Mistress Quickly/Alice – Lisa Stevenson

Creative Team:
Director – Dominic Dromgole
Designer – Jonathan Fensom
Choreographer – Sian Williams

This is, by necessity, a mini-review. I was feeling distinctly unwell, and perhaps should have stayed home in bed. I wasn’t really in the mood for sitting through a three hour play, and didn’t have the energy to do anything except sit passively in my seat and let the words wash over me. I always find a trip to the Globe a bit of a chore at the very best of times, what with the problems with sightlines (I always seem to end up sitting slap behind a pillar), audibility (theatre “in the round” always means that some of the actors are going to be facing away from you at any given point – when the theatre is open to the elements, this problem is intensified tenfold), uncomfortable wooden seating and the constant tooing and froing of “groundlings”. Last night, a group of sulky teenagers (who turned out to be French, so no wonder they were sulky given the play’s subject matter) with an enormous collection of paper and plastic shopping bags between them were a major distraction, parading in and out and rearranging their shopping at every conceivable opportunity. So my critical facilities were really in “standby” mode for most of the evening, and I think I may even have dozed off at one point.

The rest of the audience, however, seemed to be having a good time, so I guess the production was fairly decent. There were a couple of excellent performances, notably that of Jamie Parker as Henry, who seemed the epitome of English gilded youth, striding about the stage as if he owned it during scenes ambassadorial and battle, yet with a gawky, bashful charm in his long and important final scene with the Princess of France. His impassioned yet quiet and calm “St. Crispian’s Day” speech seemed to bring the entire auditorium to a reverent hush – perhaps in some surprise as this is a great “rabble rousing” speech and is usually delivered at the top of one’s lungs and with all arms flailing. Olivia Parker was an excellent Princess, played much younger and far less coldly regal as a consequence than I believe is the norm, and the famous “learning the English language” scene was a joy, helped terrifically by Lisa Stevenson as a wonderfully pompous Alice. Kurt Egyiawan deserves mention as his Dauphin was perfectly delivered acoustics-wise; you could hear every word even when his back was turned, and showed a great understanding of how projection can overcome the difficulties of playing this challenging space.

I did find the “low comedy” characters even more irritating than normal, probably exacerbated by the fact that I was feeling lousy. I did see a very creative and enjoyable performance of this play a while back, in which most of the Nym/Bardolph/Pistol/Fluellen subplots were cut completely and thought that this tightened up the play no end. Otherwise Henry V is an incredibly wordy play, with so much of the dreary “comedy interludes” that turn people off Shakespeare for good. Even the current production has a three hour running time, although great chunks of it have been jettisoned because they are Very Bloody Boring – Him Indoors always and without fail reminds me that the opening scene in which the Archbishops set up the legal and ambassadorial background to the action is one of Shakespeare’s most wordy, static and tedious. Here, however, it has been thankfully pruned to the necessary minimum, and further lightened by having both stuffy clerics take turns on the close stool while speechifying; possibly the first time at the Globe that actors have had to lift up their cassocks and wipe their backsides while in full view of the audience, although I am happy to be corrected on this point if necessary!

Battles are always difficult to portray convincingly on stage, even though Henry V is the one play of Shakespeare’s in which your powers of imagination are called upon most (the Chorus effectively pleads your indulgence throughout the text) and again the director has turned the battles into stylised dance sequences, which somehow fail to provide the necessary spark. Personally I would like to see Agincourt done in the manner of Stomp – or perhaps not portrayed at all on stage and left completely to the imagination by sound effects and pyrotechnics.

Anyway, as I said before, the rest of the audience seemed to have a good time and the other reviews have been more or less in praise of the production, so Dear Reader, let their opinions guide you on this occasion.

What the critics said:

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These are my opinions. I am entitled to them. As you are to yours. If you are going to respond to my opinions, at least make your responses worthwile. Vitriol is pointless. And more importantly, won't get published - so you'll be shouting in the dark.