Henry V

Tue 8th – Sat 12th May 2012

reviews

Dewei Jia

at 02:42 on 9th May 2012

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With Heroic and epic stories setting in a magnificent history background and breathtaking battlefield setting, 'Henry V' is presumably a boy's story. After enjoyed the new production by Globe Theatre, I found the play as much a girl's enjoyment as boy’s game.

Tonight’s star was Olivia Ross, one of the few female actors in the play. At the thought that the famous Propeller has a male only team to star Henry V, I am grateful to appreciate the beauty of Ross’s Princess Katherine. Katherine’s innocent beauty is the best match with hero Henry. Ross also played the role of ‘Boy,’ a figure come to the war with Henry’s childhood friends. The two characters share some similar features: innocent, simple, friendly, passionate, young and beautiful; and both of them speak French. Ross’s performance is so natural that it is hard to believe that it is her theatre debut. Then you tend to doubt those personalities maybe just true Ross and fell in love of her immediately.

Other female actors are equally distinctive. Chorus, starred by Brid Brennan, is the self-consciously theatrical part distinct from the actions of the play, not narrative but introductive of the play. She is so far away but also so involved in the play. Also played by Brennan, Queen Isabel’s elegancy is completely another person from Chorus. Chorus is not in the actions but so close to the audience in terms of her way of addressing it. The queen is, however, so high up in the social hierarchy that she is simply not into your world. Brennan brought these contrasts to stage successfully with her performance full of emotion. Alice (Lisa Stevenson), the lady in waiting for Katherine, is probably set as an ideal maid: protective of Katherine, knowledgeable to teach Kate some English, and funny in conversation. If that is what you expect, Stevenson does live up to all your expectations of such a character.

Pistol is another lighthearted comedian. Thanks to his amusing Welsh accent, he enjoys the power to bring the audience to laughter whenever he begins to speak. His righteous, sympathetic and humorous personality mitigates the seriousness of the heavy war theme. Especially at the scenes of slaughter, injury and blood, his presence simply reduces the unpleasant feeling of death, killing and brutality.

However, having been glad that it is a girls’ play, one point is deducted from the score because it can also be no more than a boy's game. No spectacular scenes, no charismatic Henry V. He seems to be neither smart nor brave. Even his sudden anger after the death of the boy and the subsequent triumph are not convincing. He seems to be the young Henry in his father’s garden, flirting with girls, as in ‘Henry IV’. I would expect a more inspiring and energetic Henry to be the leader of the Kingdom.

In sum, this version of ‘Henry V’ is a lively and dynamic reproduction of Shakespeare’s famous historical piece. Its revisited feminine roles and distinctive comedic relief are impressive and amusing, but perhaps also overshadowed the royal seriousness and historical heaviness.

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Philippa Taylor

at 08:36 on 9th May 2012

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Fittingly enough for an adaptation of Shakespeare’s great war drama, the Globe Theatre On Tour’s bold, unrestrained production of ‘Henry V’ triumphes with a flourish over its audience. With just the right mixture of heart-pounding fighting, rousing patriotic oratory and genuinely funny comic relief, not once does the play flag, as, dear friends, we follow King Henry and his men unto the breach. The lively, dynamic cast, led by Jamie Parker in the eponymous role, are full of an inexhaustible energy and vigour, throwing themselves into the Shakespearean speech with a natural relish and without a single lingering trace of self-consciousness. The production team succeed in wonderfully evoking the fifteenth century when the play is set, be it with a lute gently playing in the background, or the rich finery and blood-stained chain mail adorning the characters. Allow Bríd Brennan’s wonderful representation of the Chorus take your hand and lead you into an England of times past, a land of strategy, of valour and of ardent, over-whelming emotion. The Chorus might well apologise for the play’s shortcomings, but this can surely only be modesty on the part of the playwright; the performance transports its audience into the past and across land and sea to the battlefields of France with ease and style. This period authenticity does not once make the production feel stuffy or out-dated, however, and the depiction of war felt just as fresh and relevant this evening as it must have done in Shakespeare’s own day.

The atmosphere is designed very successively to be similar to that of the Globe, with the house lights never entirely dimmed, and bands of musicians appearing on stage before the start of the dialogue. The set is not elaborate, with a simple scaffold structure and a banner of heraldic crests hanging high above the action in rich reds and golds, emphasising the play’s pervasive themes of honour and pride. This simplicity allowed the actors themselves to be the embellishment instead, and the scene was impressively and seamlessly transformed into a battlefield through the use of pyrotechnics and enthusiastic acting, with the warriors doing fatal battle with imaginary opponents in terrifying, yet hypnotic, unison. This impression of war was startling and graphic, with fake blood only adding to its convincing portrayal; the performance undoubtedly succeeded in bringing home not only the horrific reality of war, but equally the more bathetic side in the exchanges between the comic characters, including the hilarious Pistol (Sam Cox) and the entertaining Captain Fluellen (Brendan O’Hea), who provided an effective contrast with the seriousness of the scenes involving the King.

Jamie Parker took on his role as the warlike monarch with relish. His stirring speeches inciting his men to valour and strength are not only addressed at those characters on stage but to the audience too, drawing us in so that ‘we happy few, we band of brothers’ unite together in a contagious patriotic fervour. Parker is by no means any less adept at delivering his comic lines either, whether he be trying to win a premarital kiss from the French Princess Katherine, or masquerading as a Welsh common man, complete with a convincing and comic accent. Capable of inspiring genuine awe and terror in his battle rage, Parker manages to convey effectively the duality of the royal personality; both the brave, glory-seeking king, and that of the human being who is just as affected as anyone else by the bloodshed necessarily engendered by war. His performance for much of the earlier part of the play is restrained and controlled, which only serves to make his sudden outbursts of genuine anger against the enemy on the battlefield all the more startling and magnificent.

The battle scenes are choreographed impeccably, but the performance really seems to shine in the comic scenes, since it is clear that the actors are enjoying themselves every bit as much as the frequently-chuckling audience do. The amusing attempts of Princess Katherine (Olivia Ross) at learning English anatomical vocabulary with a heavy French accent are delightful in their simplicity, as is the comedy frequently provoked by Fluellen, whose Welsh patriotism, culminating in the donning of an over-sized leek in his hat, is a particular highlight, showing another, more light-hearted side to patriotism.

Director Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘Henry V’ is a strategic triumph; laying siege on the audience’s attention from start to finish. It has it all: solemn war scenes, blood-stirringly patriotic discourses, royal courtship, lively singing and dancing, and all this with a regular and welcome sprinkling of unpretentious wit. At the start the Chorus asks the audience whether this ‘cockpit’ of a theatre can ‘Hold the vasty fields of France?’ The answer cannot be anything but affirmative; the production sweeps its spectators along with it wherever it chooses to go, defying time and place with its laudable attention to period detail and the utterly immersing performance of every cast member. Do not miss out on savouring the chance to travel along with it and feel your own blood stir as Henry rallies his troops. Blood, banners, belligerence and a beloved; what more could we possibly ask for from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s great historical masterpiece?

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