Trading its infamous prologue for the final moments from King Henry IV Part Two, this production sees a dying father advise his son and the crown’s successor to distract their quarreling England with war. Later triggered by the French Prince Louis and encouraged by his advisors, Henry V heeds his father’s advice.
With masterful command of verse and an embodied conviction of character, Helena Lymbery offers one of the evening’s first and most riveting portrayals as Henry IV. As her King Henry IV passes away, God Save The King rings out from the company. While they light the beeswax candles of the Wanamaker Theatre turning the page from King Henry IV to the reign of the new King Henry V, parallels of our own monarchy today resound.
This co-production doesn’t shy away from cuts, revisions, theatricality and its modern implications. For instance, actors throughout announce new scenes, intervals, and their own character’s entrances. Moi Tran’s costume design is modern dress, anachronistic language has been inserted, and the show concludes with a rather effective (if not heavy-handed) exploration of forced marriage and citizenship.
Director Holly Race Roughan’s production is fresh in other ways as well: seeing Henry V as power-hungry, temperamental, and bitter. This is not the patriotic hero we’ve come to know through Olivier’s infamous film and other stagings. Oliver Johnstone’s war-hungry King presents more like Richard III, a rabid dog who, at times, verges on mania. The first of his two big speeches is quietly performed to himself, on a bare stage. Henry then proceeds to energize and stir his soldiers to a rowdy, reckless rapture in order to fight against the enemy. Johnstone bounces between this tormented reflectiveness and machismo violence for the bulk of the evening.
Among the other strong performances by the company were Joshua Griffin’s proud Captain Fluellen, Josephine Calliés’ heartbreaking Princess Katherine, and Georgia Frost’s braggadocious ensemble roles. Moi Tran’s set design is very green, commenting on colonialism’s ties to natural resources, and midway through reveals a reflective, metaphorical surprise behind the curtain that was altogether stunning.
This is a Shakespeare’s Globe and Headlong production, with Leeds Playhouse and Royal & Derngate, Northampton. It runs 2 hours and 20 minutes through 4 February 2023.
Review Matthew Pierce Photo Johan Persson