Probably Shakespeare’s most patriotic play, Henry V tells the story of a king who, mastering the art of war- and peace-making, manages to make his English, Welsh and Scotish soldiers forget about their exaggerated local patriotism – which draws them into never-ending anecdotal controversies – and fight as a nation for a common goal: to defeat the French in the battle at Agincourt, 1415.
I would like to confess that Henry V was not among my favourite Shakespearean plays… Too many monologues, too long descriptions, too much information and too little happening on stage. One word? Boring… I probably read it two or three times and was little impressed. Then I saw Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film and… liked it, but I blamed it mainly on Branagh playing the king and directing the film and on Sir Derek Jacobi (whom I unconditionally adore!) playing the Chorus.
They were the main reason I watched the film several times and liked it more and more, so when offered the chance to see the play on stage, I surely couldn’t say ‘no‘, especially because Jamie Parker plays King Henry V. Who’s Jamie Parker? He’s one of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys – a play which made history and a film which won quite a number of awards. Here’s the trailer.
But, back to the Globe’s Henry V:
I loved the Chorus – Brid Brennan managed to make me see the things she was describing and feel the thrill of different moments in the play.
I loved Pistol – Sam Cox makes a red-nosed Pistol, cheeky in his lust for Nell, coward-ish on the battlefield, boastful when not in danger. At the end of one of his scenes, Sam Cox forgot to take a prop on his way out. So what did he do? In his character’s most natural way, he came back with an ‘Oy!’ to stop the other actors who were just entering the stage, he pointed at the prop, then at himself, took the prop and left the stage in the audience’s laughter.
I loved Princess Catherine – Olivia Ross’s French is really good and sounds genuine, which made her struggling with pronunciation in her attempts at learning English even more credible. The scene of King Henry wooing her was absolutely adorable.
I loved Captain Fluellen – Brendan O’Hea’s Welsh accent and sense of humour resulted in his stealing almost each and every scene he was in. Brilliant!
I adored King Henry V – Jamie Parker’s performance was so natural, his concerns became my concerns, and his speech before the battle – meant to enthuse his soldiers and addressed to the audience as if we were his subjects – was so heart-felt and so convincing that, when he shouted “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!” and dashed out of the stage, a large part of the audience accompanied him with a war-cry, myself including.
I was really surprised at how easy it seemed to Jamie Parker to mesmerize the audience: if he was sad or grieving, we were silent; if he was joyful and joking, we smiled and laughed; if he was worried about the English being outnumbered by the French, we answered his speech with war-cries, reassuring him we were behind him; if he was shy and flirty while wooing Princess Katherine, we flirted with him. He had us in the palm of his hand…
Last but not least, I adored the Director – Dominic Dromgoole’s view of the play as a whole impressed me very much, with many memorable scenes. Yet, the scene that I will surely never forget is the battle scene when the king and his captains rush on stage and fight randomly with imaginary enemies. Suddenly, their moves become coordinated and simultaneous and it all turns into some kind of war-dance suggesting good organisation and strategy. And then, the rhythmic, second-beat moves turn into slow motion, probably to suggest the long hours of hard fight before the victory… Simply adored this scene!
Was it a life-altering performance? For me, it was! Shakespeare’s Globe’s cast and crew working on this play contributed to my falling in love with it… Thank you!
“Kenneth Branagh… has been knighted in the Queen’s Birthday honours list. His inclusion in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list recognises the Oscar-nominated actor, director and screenwriter for his services to drama and to the community of Northern Ireland.” – The Telegraph, 16 June 2012
Congratulations, Sir Kenneth Branagh!