Henry V, Globe Theatre, London, June 2012Posted on 14 June 2012
Jamie Parker in the title role gave a superb account of a king come of age since his youthful indiscretions, and that wonderful St. Crispin’s day speech, responding to Westmorland’s wishing a few more men for the forthcoming battle of Agincourt, is delivered as if he is making it up as he goes along. In fact the whole expedition to France carries an air of unlikely providence about it, led by the king’s determination to requite the insulting gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin of France. And at one point Parker enters the audience to clap a tall chap on the upper arm and shout, “God for Harry!”
This fine production by Dominic Dromgoole has the feel of historical authenticity, with Jonathan Fensom’s costumes admirably showing the dirt and grime of the fifteenth century, and those English crosses painted onto several tunics add to the effect. In fact the feeling of being in another time starts right at the beginning as Canterbury and Ely converse while engaged in their ablutions, washing their hands afterwards in a bowl provided by the Chorus. And when Henry’s ambassador goes to France he unrolls a family tree, elegantly made and showing descent from Edward III. These are serious moments, but interspersed with lightness that caused the audience to laugh out loud, and Sam Cox as Pistol was wonderful fun. So was Brendan O’Hea as Captain Fluellen, and Kurt Egyiawan, with his superb diction, gave an amusing spin to the grandiloquence of the Dauphin.
Jamie Parker himself created laughter and applause near the beginning as he stopped at a good moment to allow the noise of a circling helicopter to die away. It came back and buzzed around for ten minutes, but nothing could put this performance out. We were immersed in a short period of the Hundred Years’ War, even if Brid Brennan as Chorus in the prologue regretted the inadequacy of a stage drama to represent the glory of one of the greatest battles in that war.
But this was a team effort with fine acting that conveyed the drama exquisitely, and Olivia Ross was wonderful, both as the English boy and the French Princess Katherine, who marries Harry of England. As history tells us, their son, born the year before his father’s death became Henry VI, the last of the house of Lancaster. The Globe is surely the greatest venue for Shakespeare, particularly under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole, and this Henry V comes over with huge appeal.
Performances continue until August 26 — for details click here.