HENRY V

In the final production of his season of five plays, Michael Grandage brings a gripping and exciting rendition of Henry V to the stage, with an excellent lead performance from Jude Law.

Opening the show, Ashley Zhanghaza is suitably dynamic as the Chorus, delivering his speeches with a lively energy which engages his audience from the off. Zhanghaza’s costume of a modern Union Flag t-shirt is a particularly interesting device, which reminds us to compare the glory and valour portrayed in Shakespeare’s play to representations of war today. Grandage’s merging of this character with the Boy who is seen with Nym, Bardolph and Pistol gives the Chorus a feeling of greater insight into the action, rather than simply taking the role of an onlooker.

In the title role, Jude Law shows great depth of character and versatility, in one moment imposing and authoritative with all the grandeur of a great king, and softer and kinder in the next. Captivating throughout, he is especially brilliant when musing on the burdens of being king on the eve of battle, and delivers his speeches to troops in a way that made me feel strangely patriotic. The wooing scene in the second act is also charming and provides a nice relief from Law’s previous stoicism, showing a more tender side to the character. Law’s performance is perfectly nuanced and completely enthralling.

Grandage’s show is carried by great acting performances, and the supporting cast are very strong. Ron Cook is on superb form as Pistol, dominating the stage as the funny, irritable rogue; Matt Ryan is magnetic as the forthcoming and amusingly patriotic Welshman Fluellen; James Laurenson is the picture of the stiff upper lip as Exeter; and Jessie Buckley is graceful, elegant and endearing as Princess Katharine. It is, however, rather difficult to pick out individual players as exceptionally good when the whole cast works so well together.

The set is bleak and imposing, and functions very well to convey the harshness of battle – although it is actually appropriate for every mood and scene, from the dark battlefields of Agincourt to the grandiose French court. The lack of complex set is also effective in letting the acting tell the story. Sudden changes from dark to bright lighting were occasionally close to blinding me, but clearly demonstrate the introduction of new moods and locations.

This is an exciting and well-staged play which finishes a very strong season for the Michael Grandage Company: a Shakespearean adaptation of exceptional standard which really merits seeing.

Henry V is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 15 February 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Michael Grandage Company website.

Photo by Johan Persson