by William Shakespeare.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS In rep to 30 December 2015*.
7.15pm 23-28, 30 Nov-5, 18, 19, 23, 30 Dec,
Mat 1.30pm 28 Nov, 5, 19 Dec.
Captioned 2 Dec 7.15pm.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7511.
www.barbican.org.uk (booking fee £3 online; £4 by’ phone).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 November.
A rich exhilarating production that points out the play’s contrasts.
Two years ago David Tennant gave his kingdom away at the Barbican when the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II transferred from Stratford-upon-Avon. Now Alex Hassell’s Henry V reasserts royalty, beginning by seizing the crown from the Chorus of Oliver Ford Davies.
No-one expresses irate scepticism better than Davies, who ambles from the Barbican stage’s depths, openly displaying props in readiness, while a voice-over instructs us about mobile ’phones. Leaning on the wooden stage-throne, his voice curling round words, considering and reassessing, he emphasises words invoking audience imagination and supposition.
But Gregory Doran’s is no cipher of a production. It makes clear the near disasters Henry overcame, as well as the repeated undercutting of glory by quarrelsome officers and thieving, cowardly soldiers – whether Henry’s old Eastcheap crew or the French whose assault on women and children breaks Henry’s chivalric code with an order to kill the French taken prisoner – ironically disappointing Anthony Byrne’s notable Pistol by depriving him of his French prisoner’s ransom.
Hassell’s Henry is a “star of England” who is still learning to shine. Confident when discarding his old cronies in Henry IV, Part II, he now faces the tougher duties of leadership. It shows in his thin voice as he asks, “May I with right and conscience” claim the French crown – not, as many Henrys do, stressing the nouns, but the personal pronoun; it’s his own power he doubts. The climactic rhyme as he responds to the insulting French gift of tennis-balls seems an effortful attempt at showing confidence.
Besieging Harfleur, Henry’s needs the second “Once more” Shakespeare gives him to persuade his army forward – offsetting the next moment when his old layabout comrades easily urge their soldiers on before retreating themselves. Later, Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set provides a damp, cramped space suitable for Henry’s pre-Agincourt night, helping focus Henry’s reflections on being a leader.
Each scene registers; the trio of Southampton traitors almost assassinate Henry, but his trap for them is clearly charted as they are unobtrusively surrounded. It’s a good paradigm for a production where the overall pattern is subtly interwoven through each individual episode.
Chorus: Oliver Ford Davies.
Henry V: Alex Hassell.
Duke of Bedford/Bates: Dale Mathurin.
Duke of Gloucester/Monsieur Le Fer: Daniel Abbott.
Archbishop of Canterbury/Erpingham: Jim Hooper.
Bishop of Ely/Duke of Orleans: Nicholas Gerard-Martin.
Duke of Exeter: Sean Chapman.
Earl of Westmoreland/Macmorris/Court: Andrew Westfield.
Earl of Warwick/Nym/Governor of Harfleur.: Christopher Middleton.
Lord Scroop/Montjoy: Keith Osborn.
Earl of Cambridge/Jamy/Williams: Simon Yadoo.
Grey/Gower: Obioma Ugoala.
Bardolph/Fluellen: Joshua Richards.
Pistol: Antony Byrne.
Mistress Quickly: Sarah Parks.
Boy: Martin Bassindale.
King of France: Simon Thorp.
Queen Isobel: Jane Lapotaire.
Dauphin: Robert Gilbert.
Katherine: Jennifer Kirby.
Alice: Leigh Quinn.
Constable of France: Sam Marks.
Rambures/Lady-in-Waiting: Evelyn Miller.
Director: Gregory Doran.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Martin Slavin.
Music: Paul Englishby.
Music Director: Gareth Ellis.
Movement: Mike Ashcroft.
Text/Voice work: Kate Godfrey.
Fight director: Terry King.
Associate director: Owen Horsley.
*Henry V can also be seen as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s four-play cycle at the Barbican, with Richard II plus Henry IV, Parts I and II. Cycles are: 12-14; 15-17; 19-21; 22-24 January 2016. In each cycle one of the Henry IV plays will be a 1.30pm matinee; other plays at 7.15pm.
Performances 19-21 Jan will all be Audio-described and Captioned.
See Alexander Ray Edser’s review of this production from Stratford-upon-Avon.