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Henry V at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, The Globe

This is an enjoyable and dynamic production of Henry V at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Does it matter that there is innovative action and that it is highly edited with both inserts and innuendo from other Shakespeare plays? It might be if you want to see a completely true-to-the-text version of Henry V.

Oliver Johnstone in Henry V. Photographer: Johan Persson.
Oliver Johnstone in Henry V. Photographer: Johan Persson.

In this show, the intended emphasis is on rhetoric as an art of concealment, where words and processes will be employed to suggest reason though this is no more than a brittle veneer. Because all that matters is what the leader, the King in this instance, desires. This Henry is ruthless in pursuit of what it is he wants, regardless of entitlement and justice.

Early on in the production, we are shown this is a king to actively fear when, in an assault not in the original text, he kills his best friend with his bare hands as his courtiers look away. This is the reveal of Henry’s character. From then on there is dread attached to him. There is no doubt that should he be denied in any way there may be another eruption of tyrannical violence without boundaries.

This is a new interpretation of the play by the director, Holly Race Roughan, but it works. There is no glory to be found in Henry’s victories, in conquest. This King uses his soldiers, whose names will be lost in mud and death despite his words of promise, to elevate only his own.

There are numerous parallels with King Henry VIII or Shakespeare’s own Richard III but we also draw connections between Henry’s desire for France. We are also prompted to think of our own recent leading politicians who have also felt entitled to get what they want, no matter the harm caused.

This Henry lets us know he is prepared to employ fair treatment should he achieve his own goals faster. There is nothing benign about this, just tactics, without safety for the recipients.

One of the contradictions that’s interesting in this modern dress production is that the women actors play parts as notably strong men. But there is frequent reference in this four hundred year old text to the threat of rape and destruction of families, vulnerability to be exploited as a weapon.

Many of us will think one of the great things about Shakespeare’s plays is they can be directed and performed, moulded, to speak to us about our issues today.

The Designer is Moi Tran. The set is mostly simple with the actors sitting at the edge of the stage on chairs but there is a lovely burnished copper backdrop and the lighting of the candles, such a unique component of this theatre, waits as a dramatic moment, illuminating the intriguing and historical ceiling. The accompanying music and sounds are a joy, performed by hidden. musicians.

The accessibility of the language is made perfect by the talented company. So much it’s possible at times to look away from the small stage and concentrate on the words as if this is an excellent radio play. But this is merely a lull before dynamic movement is inserted again, sometimes providing a shock.

Oliver Johnstone is terrific as this Henry V. He is believable as a dangerous, manipulative person and is splendidly in control of his text.

This show is enjoyable, fast-paced and provoking performed by an able company. Another Henry V to see.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

The production is by Shakespeare’s Globe and Headlong, with Leeds Playhouse and Royal & Derngate, Northampton.

Civil unrest, trouble with Europe, the death of a monarch… Experience Shakespeare’s unnervingly relevant Henry V in a production that offers a different perspective on England’s hero.

Henry, the young and newly crowned king, is impatient to assert control over the people of England. Having received a humiliating gift from overseas, his bruised ego leads him to double down on a military invasion abroad in a bid to expand his green and pleasant land. But at what devastating cost?

Henry V Cast
Joséphine Callies – KATHERINE / BOY
James Cooney – THOMAS / ORLEANS / GOWER
Georgia Frost – NYM / MICHAEL WILLIAMS / RAMBURES
Jon Furlong – BARDOLPH / JOHN BATES / CONSTABLE OF FRANCE
Joshua Griffin – JOHN / FLUELLEN
Eleanor Henderson – QUEEN OF FRANCE / PRINCE LOUIS / AMBASSADOR 1 / LE FER
Oliver Johnstone – HENRY V
Geoffrey Lumb – KING OF FRANCE / ERPINGHAM / GOVERNOR OF HARFLEUR / AMBASSADOR 2
Helena Lymbery – HENRY IV / EXETER
Dharmesh Patel – SCROOP / PISTOL / MONTJOY / OFFICER

Creatives
Bass Viol Joanna Levine
Cello – Maddie Cutter
Musical Director and Contrabassoon – Lois Au
Nyckelharpa – Benjin Pollock
Associate Designer – Mona Camille
Associate Director – Naeem Hayat
Candle Consultant and Lighting Designer – Azusa Ono
Casting Director – Becky Paris
Composer – Max Pappenheim
Costume Supervisor – Harriet Barsby
Designer – Moi Tran
Director – Holly Race Roughan
Dramaturg – Cordelia Lynn
Fight Director – Kate Waters
Globe Associate, Movement – Glynn MacDonald
Head of Voice – Tess Dignan
Intimacy Director – Yarit Dor
Movement Director – Malik Nashad Sharpe
Seasonal Voice Coach – Katherine Heath

Henry V – Globe Tickets
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
10 Nov 2022 – 4 Feb 2023

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