More than a dozen actors ascend the stage in plain 21st-century streetwear. A woman appears, clearly feminine but wearing a masculine combination of tartan shorts and matching waistcoat, under which she wears a white short-sleeved cotton shirt emblazoned with images of gekkos. She wears bold red lipstick, and she is our Henry V. Upon her head a crown is placed, and upon her shoulders a cape. And thus Michelle Terry begins her epic performance.
Michelle Terry steals the show with her gender-bending performance as Shakespeare’s Henry V. Strong, intelligent, calculating, witty, Terry shows us a different side of Henry V. She draws us into the story. We know how the plot will unfold, but Terry and her stellar cast of supporting characters keep us on the edge of our seats. Never a nicer evening was had in Regent’s Park than watching this production of Henry V under the stars.
Drums beat that fuel anticipation as to what may come. We feel impending doom. The Agincourt battle scene was a tightly choreographed number set to rhythmic drum beats, with large bright flood lights creating silhouettes through fog. The English soldiers on the Agincourt stage wore Afghanistan-era camouflage Army fatigues with matching helmets. Oddly, they carried First World War-era rifles. An English solider used modern-day binoculars to access his French enemy. All this created a hodgepodge of time and space, an interesting directorial decision for a play set in the year 1415.
There were few downsides to this splendid evening of Shakespeare. Firstly, several actors periodically smoked cigarettes on stage, and we in the audience whiffed the smoke and it was repugnant. Can the actors not use artificial cigarettes as props or alternately dismiss with smoking altogether? Secondly, there was improperly placed humour during the battle at Agincourt, inappropriate in its levity as it was a time of great bloodshed. Only these two downsides dampened my love of this production. Otherwise, it was near perfection in its creative interpretation. And with that in mind, let us close this review with the great motivational passage delivered by Henry V before he leads his troops into battle:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Review by Jennifer Daley
“Follow your spirit: and upon this charge, Cry — God for Harry! England and Saint George!”
As England triumphs at the Battle of Agincourt during her quest to win the French crown, Henry V becomes one of the great warrior kings leading “we happy few, we band of brothers “ in Shakespeare’s retelling of this famous victory.
Directed by Donmar Warehouse Associate Director Robert Hastie, Olivier Award-winning actress Michelle Terry takes the title role of Henry.
Henry V is part of Shakespeare400, celebrating Shakespeare’s creative influence in national and global culture in the 400th anniversary of his death.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU