After a slew of recent productions, you might think that another Henry V would be overkill. But fear not, this is no staunchly traditional reading of the play, telling the story of a king at war with France -- and with his own feelings on the matter. It's a complete reshaping of the piece, which has been cut and melded around the story director Henry Filloux-Bennett wants to tell.
The story here, then, is one of war and misjudgement -- specifically Iraq, but with wider implications for the rest of the Arab world. To confuse matters further, there are two Henrys -- one explicitly modelled on Tony Blair, played superbly by Jack Morris, and one who goes to war (Mark Field).
It's a commentary on the fact that monarchs no longer go to war, but by being so explicit about the Blair connections and the fairly specific time frame of the piece, it does lead to confusion, as does the appropriation of the text to serve the story. Some speeches take on new meaning, while others are transformed to powerful effect -- such as the Dauphin's rhapsodies over his horse.
Mark Field makes a strident and bombastic Henry, breaking down childishly when things don't go his way. He could show a little more subtlety, but the point is made that between slimy politicians and furious soldiers there is often very little middle ground.
The highly experienced Steve Fortune holds the piece together with his varied and powerful portrayals of various characters, including a forthright Pistol and a yes-man Cambridge. Meanwhile, Morris, clearly a very talented actor, does a great deal with the limited material he is given and you find yourself wishing to see his straight Henry.
Not everything works - swapping speeches between characters and cutting others out means pathos and meaning is lost at times, but this is not to say that Filloux-Bennett's ideas are not salient and relevant to the play and the time we live in.
This is not Henry V as you will have seen it. It's thought-provoking, full of strong actors and definitely worth a watch for the social commentary -- though you should then pay a visit to the Globe to make sense of the play as a whole.
- by Miriam Zendle