What’s it all about?
There is something very fitting about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of Henry V opening at the Barbican on Armistice Day.
This, so often seen as the most patriotic of Shakespeare’s history plays, follows the formerly roguish Henry as he leads a war on France. Yet where previously this may have felt like a revel on the glory of England, here it feels much more about the uncertainty of war.
Who’s in it?
Much of that theme shift is down to rising RSC star Alex Hassell as Henry. Far from an iconic, country-inspiring figurehead, he fills his Henry with concern, hesitation and doubt, presenting a leader who realises the gravity of his decisions. In his mouth the ‘Once more unto the breach” speech feels more like an improvised encouragement than a premeditated, inspirational morale-lifter.
RSC veteran Oliver Ford Davies is the perfect avuncular storyteller as the show’s Chorus, welcoming the audience in and holding our hand throughout proceedings.
What should I look out for?
Jennifer Kirby as mischievous French princess Katherine attempting to learn English. Think ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Officer Crabtree, but in reverse. And without a moustache.
Stephen Brimson Lewis’ joyous design choices including Pistol as a rock leprechaun and the French Dauphin sporting a gloriously ridiculous classic bob.
In a nutshell?
Master Shakespeare stager Gregory Doran delivers a thoughtful, witty Henry V for the post-Iraq war generation.
What’s being said on Twitter?
— Laura Wickham (@LauraWickham) November 11, 2015
— Duran Fulton Brown (@DuranFBrown) November 9, 2015
Will I like it?
This is not your average Henry V. It’s light on bombast and pomp, but rich in questioning. From the show’s opening – where first we are introduced to it as a story before Henry takes pains to discover whether his ambitions of war have any justification – it feels like a modern parable. Does this version justify going once more unto the breach? It does, just don’t cry anything about England, Harry or Saint George.
Henry V plays at the Barbican until 30 December, but returns for the King And Country cycle in January. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.