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Henry V

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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My idle thought as I arrived at the Globe was that the opening of Henry V should really have been a few days ago, putting us in the mood for some anti-French feeling before the England team's much-anticipated clash with the Les Bleus.

But it’s not clear how much nationalistic gloating there would have been because there is little sign of Henry as blood-thirsty warmonger in Dominic Dromgoole's fine production. Instead, Jamie Parker's thoughtful Henry is a picture of a man waging war almost reluctantly.

It’s a portrayal that has a lot to commend it. The 'band of brothers' speech is delivered as if Henry is thinking aloud, but during its course the army slowly files onstage in rapt attention. It’s a compelling moment, received in total silence by the audience.

The involvement of the audience isn’t an accident. The cast engage with them throughout the play, Henry scanning the groundlings for likely-looking recruits and audience members joining the cast in shouting their support for the king. Brid Brennan is highly-effective as the Chorus, surreptitiously drawing the audience into her confidence.

While there’s a grim determination about the English cause, there's a sense of humour too. When Henry declines the Dauphin's gift of tennis balls, he repeats the word 'mock' to sound like the hollow pock of racquet striking ball; there's a fierce determination to see things through whether it's a game or a war.

But Henry is not the only character being downplayed. Sam Cox's cadaverous-looking Pistol is less the usual roistering swaggerer and more a world-weary figure who is realising that his lusty days are behind him. He’s still the scoundrel with an eye for the main chance but there’s a melancholy there too.

While the overall effect is of an English king and army marching determinedly to its goal, there are considerable flashes of humour. An ebullient Brendan O'Hea, for example, mines all the comic potential of the role of Fluellen. The funniest moment in the play, however, is Chris Starkie's cameo as a fantastically unintelligible Scotsman.

There’s nothing outlandish about the production but it’s superbly-paced and in Parker, Dromgoole has found a charismatic Henry, one who commands respect without ever becoming overbearing.


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