Dominic Dromgoole’s admirably large-spirited and beautifully paced production of Henry V is a canny, not to say mischievous, piece of scheduling, poised as it is to serve two purposes.
It brings up the rear as the English-language contribution to the extraordinary Globe to Globe international festival.
And coming in from a regional tour, it now stirringly inaugurates the Globe’s own season on the South Bank in a year when, with the Jubilee and the Olympics, there’s a perceived duty to fly the flag (even if ironically) for England.
The revival, handsomely costumed in period, finds unforced, imaginative ways of intermingling this
ambivalent work’s blasts of patriotism and its clear-sighted scepticism about the contested legality and the terrible human cost of the war. The “wooden O” of the Globe is the play’s spiritual home, its openness to the sky seeming to amplify the soaring scene-painting of the Chorus, here thrillingly played by Brid Brennan’s bright-eyed, bird-like serving woman. This must be the first Chorus ever to act as toilet attendant to the Bishops of Canterbury and Ely who here break new ground by discussing foreign policy while taking turns on a commode.
Jamie Parker is terrific as the young King – presenting him a dab hand at using his public-school heart-throb dash while also rather ashamed about his easy flair for manipulative stage-management. On the eve of Agincourt, his quiet appeal to the audience with outstretched arms casts such a rapt spell that you feel the entire theatre would rise up to march behind him. But this confidence is countered by moments when the battle-bloodied monarch appears to be mastering sudden surges of self-doubt and disgust.
The comedy is handled with a lovely aplomb, often serving to enhance, in a different key, the sense of loss and waste – as with the air of melancholy and disorientation that gathers round Pistol, who is here given a touch of the bibulous, hammy Victorian actor-manager by the fine Sam Cox. And the wider perspective of squabbling
nations within Britain is lent hilarity by equipping the Scottish Captain Jamy with the kind of thick unintelligible accent that requires subtitles and by the stage-dominating stellar cameo by Brendan O’Hea as Fluellen, here a blissfully funny Welsh windbag’s Welsh windbag.
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