Review: Henry V

Jamie Parker cuts rather a dash, hurtling about the Globe’s stage and waving his sword, but it is in his moments of stillness that he really shines. He’s far and away the best thing about this solid but slightly lacklustre production of Henry V, playing the king with boyish charm and a wisdom-beyond-his-years which he wears lightly. It’s hard to know what to say about Dominic Dromgoole’s production; perhaps it is a little travel weary from its tour around the country. It’s not bad at all, and there are plenty of things to like about it, but there’s not much that’s particularly noteworthy about it, either.

It’s nice to see Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe, as the play speaks of the Globe’s “wooden O” and makes much of its stage – the Chorus’s role is to remind us that we have to use our imaginations and pretend that we travel to France and witness great battles. For the modern theatregoer, this all feels a bit redundant if not done with panache, and Brid Brennan’s Chorus doesn’t half drag it out. Every speech she makes feels over-long and her enunciation is oh-so-deliberate and difficult to glean meaning from. Parker does a pretty good job of getting through Henry’s famous speeches, and is endearingly bad at wooing the nervous Katherine (Olivia Rose), but his verse-speaking never dazzles.

The rain doesn’t help, of course, and Parker gets the audience on his side easily with a few jokes about the weather. It’s an impressive actor who can keep soggy groundlings in good spirits, and credit to Parker for managing it. He is very likeable, but this in itself doesn’t always work in is favour; he is more a man you’d want to go to the pub with than a great king you’d be prepared to die for.

Comic support is mostly strong from Brendan O’Hea’s Fluellen, but he milks every line and is never quite as funny as he thinks he is. I realise that the Globe is a big, open space, and that the cast has a duty to make sure they can be seen and heard everywhere, but there is a lot of over-acting going on. The comic characters mostly get away with it, as do the clergy, but the lords – particularly the French court – become a touch grating. The comedy accents (French, Welsh) are so over-the-top that they cease to be funny pretty quickly. Nigel Cooke’s reserved Exeter is a notable exception; he radiates the kind of quiet, intelligent strength you would want on your side in a battle.

The costumes are the usual Globe fare; tunics, boots and baggy trousers for the men, and long dresses, aprons and head coverings for the women. The music (Adrian Woodward), too, just feels a bit bland – there is some brilliant, atmospheric drumming, and not a lot else. So there you have it. It’s fine. It’s very long, even by the Globe’s standards (really, there are some bits that can be cut without harming the play), and it has some nice moments. A solid, enjoyable rendition of the play without much flair.

Henry V is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 26th August. For more information and tickets, see the Shakespeare’s Globe website.

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