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Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe

William Shakespeare
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
★★★★

Pros: Moving central performance heading a great cast in a well-paced and effective production.

Cons: My poor legs! Always with the painful legs at the Globe…

Our Verdict: Great production – rousing central performance, great supporting cast, far funnier than you’d expect.

Courtesy of Alastair Muir for the Daily Telegraph

When the sun is shining and the crowd is enthralled, I challenge anyone to deny that The Globe is one of the most glorious places to be in London. And so it was on the afternoon of the last Globe-to-Globe play visited: the English offering of Henry V. Killing two birds with one stone this production, directed beautifully by Dominic Dromgoole, both completes the Globe-to-Globe season and opens the Globe’s summer season. And it opens it in style! Shakespeare’s native tongue is done proud, with rousing speeches, wonderfully funny performances and a touching portrayal of a King and country navigating the horrors of war. This is a play filled with so many of the expressions Shakespeare is remembered for, and the brilliant cast serves his words well. Normally I avoid ‘The Histories’ – I think the number of men with very similar names terrifies me a little. But if you can promise me that all future histories will have the mix of warmth and anguish, and at the superb pace of this one, I’ll try many more in the future!

This is a play that has been easily manipulated in the past to fit the various arguments for and against war played out across history. It’s very easy to see why – rarely is it possible to so successfully recognize the depth of the grey area navigated by war makers. At once angry with a King who is subjecting them to the misery of war and accepting of the necessity of their actions, Henry’s soldiers air a voice so many of us can relate to – a hatred of the very nature of war, but an acceptance that sometimes it is the lesser of two evils.

Jamie Parker, who received very positive reviews as Prince Hal in Henry IV at the Globe in 2010, here completes the arc of the royal. He is transformed from those days of his youth into a noble, thoughtful King who leads his men into a bloody war. Despite the obvious anger, Parker’s subtle performance allows us glimpses of vulnerability and, in his seduction of Princess Katherine, a humour and tenderness that can only endear this King to us. Most powerful, however, is his St Crispin’s day speech. It’s not saying much to mention I’d follow Mr Parker anywhere he went, but I don’t think I was alone in this instance! In such a space as the Globe, the glorious ‘Wooden O’, where you are literally shoulder to shoulder with other onlookers and just inches from the performance it is possible to awaken real passion for a fictional event, and it is a pleasure to watch as Parker successfully evokes such feelings. You really do feel you have become his army.

Nym, Bardolph and Pistol (David Hargreaves, Paul Rider and Sam Cox, respectively), alongside the representatives of the squabbling factions of the British Isles provide humorous interludes to the action of the piece. These brilliantly paced and genuinely funny (always a risk from Shakespearean ‘comedy’ characters!) scenes only add to the sense of anguish that war has been thrust upon these individuals, who would otherwise be us, at home, laughing with friends and family in the pub and drinking one too many. Perhaps even more moving is the vicious death of the Boy, whose neck is casually sliced and broken. King Henry’s retaliatory sentencing of the French prisoners to death seems somehow tame after such callous violence.

Finally kudos must be given to Jonathan Fensom for his design. Beautifully decked out in period costume, and with a simple but incredibly effective wooden and fabric set, there is enough visual engagement to keep your eyes busy throughout, but not so much that you a distracted from this glorious production.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Henry V runs at Shakespeare’s Globe until 26th August 2012.
Box Office: 020 7401 9919 or book online at http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/calendar/c/theatre-productions-henry

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Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.