Henry V – Dec. 21st, ’13

london west end


Henry V certainly was a joy to watch – not just because of the fabulous Jude Law who was truly great but also because of James Laurenson whom I happened to see in an Australian TV show called Bony – which was probably the first time I realised that sometimes good books get tampered with! Read more about Bony here

But back to Henry V. Another Grandage production, another smash hit – on yet another empty stage made of barely treated, whitewashed wooden logs that are walls, pavement, niches and doors. As stated in the choir:

The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

It is simply amazing how vivid both story and surroundings unfold, told by a young black actor who, dressed in a washed out grey-ish shirt with a colorless union jack printed on it and in black jeans, blended into these whitewashed walls as if he wasn’t even there.

The story: Henry V has the reputation of a wild prince with no skills of a ruler, but after his father’s death he abandoned his juvenile ways and tries to be king. When he tries to recover parts of his lands in France, the French king sends “the child” a trunk full of tennis balls, to entertain him. War ensues. And is won by Henry and his troups despite being desperately undermanned and the odds being in favour of the French the whole time. When their king admits defeat, Henry chooses the French princess Katharine as his queen, to settle their argument through their offspring once and for all. Well, we all know how history decided to play that.

It is a rather short play, but due to battles and tense scenes before the battles an incredibly intense drama, that only gives way to more lighthearted dealings when Harry, the soldier king, tries to woo a woman who barely speaks English. I bet Shakespeare had a lot of fun writing those scenes.

Very impressive also the mention of Falstaff who – after two incredibly successful appearances in Shakespeare’s plays (Henry IV, both parts, and Merry wives of windsor) gets his swan song – never appearing but lovingly referred to as he now can no longer accompany his drinking buddy’s son, prince Hal, to battle.

And then the two monologues that shape this play, that, if they aren’t done convincingly, kill this play as efficiently as guns kill people. or people kill people. anyway. VERY efficiently.

The first is to rouse them to capture the city:

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this chargeCry
‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’
And then they charge and I swear I had to hold onto myself to not run with them to fight the just cause or whatever, just fight.
The second is the famous St Crispin’s speech, while facing a far superior army – ten times more soldiers than the English, and knowing that many of the men will not come home again…
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;
And as he says “we band of brothers” – goosebumps.
Sheer goosebumps.
So: Jude Law once again proved that he is indeed a fantastic actor and not just a movie star (thank you!), James Laurenson was incredibly convincing and has a royal air about him that is remarkable. And the “choir” which constituted of one actor, Ashley Zhangazha, was amazingly good. I was asked during a chat with my friend if I had thought that it was a play that solely lived through Law’s interpretation. And I was glad I was able to say – no, the rest of the cast was great as well, as was direction by Michael Grandage. I love his productions. He is a genius. Therefore: go and watch it. It’s so worth it!

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