Henrytop

Alex Hassell  as Henry V inspiring his men for Harry, England and St George

Henry V

Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon

****

THIS month, 25 October, St Crispin’s Day, sees the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, when King Henry V of England led his heavily outnumbered army, with its English and Welsh longbowmen, to victory against the French.

And at the RSC, this key battle of the 100 Years War is celebrated and remembered with a powerful production of Shakespeare’s celebrated history play.

Gregory Doran directs the passionate and imaginative account of the fighting monarch, and cleverly highlight’s Shakespeare’s moral views which are still relevant in today’s age of political difference. Doran highlights a patriotism for England that translates from 600 years ago to inject patriotic pride into the heart of a modern audience.

The production is thick with emotion and rich with historical research to help audiences of today relate to our shared history.

The Chorus, played by the charming Oliver Ford Davies opens the production on a seemingly bare stage, in which we even see the lighting rig upstage in the sparse introduction. Davies is seen at intervals, reminding the audience of events gone by and closes the show with a happy account of the history aftPistler the battle with a natural flair of storytelling.

The set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis and lighting by Tim Mitchell is a beautiful backdrop to the majestic production. It surprises us when we eventually see the holographic images change scene by scene projected onto a draping curtain upstage. With their opulent style and striking colours, our imagination soars as it creates beautiful imagery against the fervent action.

There is also a striking contrast between the French court and the English army. The King of France played by Simon Thorp, along with his court including Robert Gilbert’s Dauphin are always seen in beautiful rich armour of royal blue and silver, highlighting Doran’s classical concept of the play.

Antony Byrne as Pistol. Photo: Keith Pattison

Alex Hassell is the perfect Henry V. In Hassell’s performance we see a journey of personal development, making the transition from Prince Hal to the King who leads England in battle.

Hassell is strongest in the second half of the production and his performance of the St Crispin’s Day speech brings tears to the eyes. Through Hassell, we see a fascinating transition from boy to man and within his tender and exposed emotions, we see a mighty love for fighting ‘for the cause and the love for one’s country.

Amongst the brevity and power of this production, it is fuelled with a humour that brings out a wonderful sense of comradery and shows that this is very much a company production. The trio of Pistol, Bardolph and Nym, played by Anthony Byrne, Joshua Richards and Chris Middleton amuse us with their witty deeds and funny characteristics.

Doran makes sure to highlight the fun and happiness that are woven into a tale of might and heavy emotion. The humorous final scene with Henry and Katherine, played by Jennifer Kirby, trying to understand each other with broken French and English lifts the audience’s spirits and shows the personality behind the roaring King.

This production is as current now as what it was in 1599 when Shakespeare wrote the piece. Doran cleverly highlights a patriotism within the production, as well as mremining true to Shakespeare’s historical text with the classical production. Its emotional depth is riveting, leaving the audience bursting with pride and with a sense of togetherness and belonging as they left the auditorium. To St Crispin’s Day, 25 October.

Elizabeth Halpin

07-10-15

Henry V transfers to the Barbican in London from 7 November to 30 December 2015 Book

The production will also be broadcast live to a large number of cinemas on Wednesday, 21 October – to find your nearest participating cinema click here  

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