Henry VPosted by Laurence Green
Gregory Dolan's traditional take on Henry V lacks atmosphere or the feeling of an epic but wil still please some, writes Laurence Green.
It seems entirely appropriate that the RSC's last play in the King and Country tetralogy HenryV (which has transferred from Stratford to the Barbican Theatre in London) should come in the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
The former Prince Hal has finally succeeded his father to the English throne and with the country in a state of unrest, he must leave his rebellious youth behind striving to gain the respect and nobility of his people. Desperate to prove himself as a warrior king like his forbears and after receiving an 'insulting' gift of tennis balls from the French Dauphin, is spurred to invade France. The English soldiers are in poor condition- disheartened by sickness and foul weather - and begin to make their way towards Calais. Henry rejects the French Herald's offer of ransom and the two armies prepare to fight. On the eve of battle, Henry tours the camp in disguise and sounding out opinions of his men considers the heavy responsibilities of kingship. In the French camp, by contrast, confidence is high. As battle begins, Henry rallies his troops and places them all in God's hands.
Director Gregory Doran deliberately takes a stance that's neither pro-war nor anti-war and the production itself which tends to overplay the comic elements in the story with laughs derived from the different forms of English used by the Welsh, Scottish and Irish troops, only sometimes pulses with vitality. Stephen Brimson Lewis's sparse design isn't atmospheric and the production overall generally lacks an epic quality.
Alex Hassell succeeds in making Henry cold and conscientious but also vulnerable and insecure, aware of the need to be a credible public figure. This rigid self-control doesn't make Henry particularly engaging but it does suggest the practical demands of wearing the crown. Good support is provided by Jim Hooper as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Gilbert as the Dauphin and a dignified Jane Laportaire as the chorus whose resonant voice beautifully conveys Shakespeare's eloquent verse.
This is a traditional production of the Bard's work, which will no doubt have admirers.
Runs at the Barbican Theatre until Wednesday 30 December 2015
Box office: 020 7638 8891
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