Henry V at the Open Air

Published June 23, 2016

What’s it all about?

Newly crowned King Henry believes that he has a stake in French land, and gathers an army to go and fight for it. Several bloody battles ensue, and a bitter diplomatic agreement must be fulfilled to ensure peace between the two countries.

Who’s in it?

Olivier Award winner Michelle Terry takes up the mantle as King Henry, bringing gravitas and poise to Shakespeare’s famous monarch. At first Terry displays a certain nervousness, pacing the stage, hands clenched, clearly troubled and concerned by the actions she is about to undertake in France. Nevertheless, the gentle façade shatters when she is provoked, and she roars like a battle-worn soldier.

Hers is a plain-speaking King, frank and logical to the end, but with a clear emotional connection to her country and people. It is satisfying to see that, though she plays a male character, Terry neither makes Henry a woman, nor attempts to exaggerate traditional masculine tropes. She simply plays a character; a soldier, a patriot and a talented politician.

What should I look out for?

Joshua Carr’s impressive lighting design in the Battle of Agincourt. Blinding white lights combined with billowing smoke create an effective and chilling fight scene, with soldiers becoming shadows, stumbling and colliding in the mist.

Ben Wiggins’ superb performances as both The Boy and Princess Katherine. His delivery is easy and natural, and as The Boy he speaks with an innocent openness that is instantly endearing. Like Terry, his cross-gender performance is free from flamboyance (though he does succeed in making the famous English lesson scene extremely funny) and is always earnest. His portrayal of the princess in Act Five is poignant and quietly heart-breaking.

In a nutshell?

A striking production that does not shy away from the play’s big questions.

What are people saying on Twitter?

Will I like it?

The production makes plain its political intentions – in light of the Chilcot inquiry it wants to question why we go to war, and with the EU referendum now in motion, to discuss our relationship with Europe. It is therefore not the banner-toting, flag-waving, patriotic jamboree you might expect from Shakespeare’s so-called “national” play. This is about the business and political nature of war, and the brutality that necessarily follows. On stage, those in suits are always surrounded by others in khaki and combat boots; violence and death are ever-present. The caps of the fallen remain on stage as a poignant tribute to the dead, and the fears and suffering of the soldiers are effectively portrayed. Hastie’s production does not bite the bullet, and it strikes a hard and profound blow because of it.

Henry V runs at the Open Air Theatre in Regents’ Park until 8 July. To book tickets, visit the official website.

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