Following on from Prince Hal’s Cheapside shenanigans and triumph on the battlefields in Shakespeare’s monarchy epics: Henry IV part 1 and Part 2, the Royal Shakespeare Company have returned to the Barbican to showcase its sequence with courageous force. In fact, the RSC has much to celebrate. Their revival production of Henry V is understatedly fresh and engaging.
Artistic Director, Gregory Doran’s utter dedication to Shakespeare’s history plays mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Alex Hassell is back in striking form to regale audiences with the kingly and majestic side to Hal, leaving behind his rebellious antics and clownish knight, Falstaff.
Doran’s interest in the tetralogy began two years ago with Richard II, and it seems as if each production only gets better and better. What’s interesting about this production is that it elucidates the complex themes of the play in a simple and straightforward way. Similarly as the young king wins the war with France, the Barbican stage grips its audiences and seizes them.
Dressed in a winter scarf and cardigan, Oliver Ford Davies as the eloquent Chorus paints the scene beautifully and manages to tickle them with a comic line or two. Robert Gilbert gives a fine performance as the self-indulgent and long haired Dauphin. And as much as Dauphin enjoys eating his sweets on a silver plate, he is no match to the strategic King Hal.
Hassell’s Hal is good looking, lean and ready for action. Though he bears the attributes of a serious king with a stern awareness of courtly manners, he isn’t afraid to fight for his country.
Audiences see Hassell perform at his best with the “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” speech. His approach is considered and focused. There are some prolonged silences for impact, and he says these powerful words as if he had literally finished fighting off a group of rogue enemies.
Yet, with the romantic scene at the very end, where Hassell reveals a cheekier and charming side of Hal to Katherine (Jennifer Kirby), Hassell delivers on versatility by causing much laughter across the auditorium. With Kirby’s faux French accent and chic feistiness, the play concludes on a high note.
Henry V is not an easy play to stage. The narrative is moody and moves from war to farce. However, no matter how easily one can get lost in the words, there’s simply not a dull moment in this production.
The rest of the cast deserve a five-star reward as well. The audience can feel the spit and rawness of its common folk: Pistol, Nym and Bardolph played by Antony Byrne, Christopher Middleton and Joshua Richards.
To top it off, there are loud fanfares, beautiful music, composed by Paul Englishby, with fabulous polyphony voices. Not forgetting great visuals seen through moving video projections that take us from the red clouds of the battlefields to the grand halls that keep the enemy warm.
Review by Mary Nguyen
Henry IV is dead and Hal is King. With England in a state of unrest, he must leave his rebellious youth behind, striving to gain the respect of his nobility and people.
Following productions of Richard II (2013/14) and Henry IV Parts I & II (2014/15), Gregory Doran and the RSC creative team continue their exploration of Shakespeare’s History plays. They return with the conclusion of this epic tale in the 600th anniversary year of the Battle of Agincourt. Having played Prince Hal in Henry IV Parts I & II, Alex Hassell is back as the newly crowned Henry V in the final part of the tetralogy.
Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS
Booking Until: 30th December 2015