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Henry V at the Globe theatre

Published 14 June 2012

In a month when the Queen has been celebrated for the 60 years of inspiring service she has bestowed on her nation, Shakespeare’s Globe diverts the royal focus to a 15th century leader who inspired his country to an unforgettable victory.

In the hands of the venue’s Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole, Shakespeare’s historic tale of war and peace – which follows Henry V as he leads his outnumbered army though the fields of France to victory at the Battle of Agincourt – remains a traditional offering complete with intricately tailored period costumes, folk music and, of course, the Bard’s commanding words.

Stepping back into Shakespearean shoes following his performance as Prince Hal in Henry IV Parts I and II, Jamie Parker now brings charm and charisma to the title role in its powerful sequel. Parker’s passionate performance as the resolute and rousing orator, who will stop at nothing to reinforce the stability of his nation, dominates the Globe’s challenging stage and more, as at times his brimming heroic passion is quite literally felt by innocent bystanders in the audience.

Dromgoole’s production skilfully adopts that familiar juxtaposition of opposites for which the Bard is so renowned, alternating between the common people’s comic subplot and the principal heroic action of the protagonist. Sam Cox leads the former’s chucklesome tomfoolery as the gangly, knife-wielding Pistol, who, less focused on the task in hand and more intent on earning his own financial victory, prances around the stage with all the grace of a drunken peacock.

In a play dominated by male action, Olivia Ross’ sweet-voiced Princess Katherine and Lisa Stevenson’s not-so-sweet-voiced Alice provide light-hearted humour as they prove their language skills to be far from fluent, and they’re not alone. Fortunately the king’s ability to succeed in war comes with greater ease than his domination of the French language as, during one of the stand-out scenes of the evening, Henry turns from ruthless ruler to loveable leader as he struggles to get his point – and charm – across in an exchange with his future wife, and daughter of King Charles VI of France, Katherine.

While Parker’s impassioned presence is undeniable, with the help of a leek-obsessed Welshman and an incomprehensible Scottishman, Dromgoole’s fuss-free production gives life to Shakespeare’s original themes of nationality and social class in medieval England, drawing attention not only to the ruler but also to the ruled.

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