Tuesday 04 November 1997
"I enjoyed it, it was good fun," says Michael Sheen of his latest screen venture with Stephen Fry in Wilde. "It was an opportunity to get my backside out." No doubt this will go some way to helping Sheen in his latest role as Henry V at the Barbican, where he must enact the famous "touch of Harry in the night" and tickle the Shakespearean fancy for bawdy jokes on cross- dressing.
Comedy aside, Henry V is a difficult play to stage in the Nineties, needing a light touch to tread over potential political land-mines as it is sometimes seen as jingoistic and patriotic. The popularity of the 1944 film version, starring Laurence Olivier, was rooted in the passionate climate of World War Two, although during The Globe's summer production of Henry V this year, the audience booed the French. The director Ron Daniels recreates political tension through a dramatic set design that uses contemporary images of war from film footage, microphones and guns.
The third part in a trilogy that records the young king's life, Henry V witnesses Henry's ascendence to the French throne, claimed via a swiftly prompted battle. Vaulting tennis balls provoke the war, and it is through this flimsy pretext that the play questions politics, war and heroism. Hell's Angels, trench warfare, shades, body bags, and over-the-top costumes put a 20th-century stamp on proceedings.
Michael Sheen, only seven months out of Rada and already described as "the most exciting young actor of his generation", is perfectly cast as Henry, the young King intent on marking his territory.
Barbican Hall, London EC1. Tickets pounds 6-pounds 24.50. Box-office: 0171-638 8891.
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