It’s once more unto the breach for director Michael Grandage and his protégé Jude Law! This unusually elegant revival of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ marks the last chapter in Grandage’s five-show run at the Noël Coward Theatre, and the last chance for the 40-year-old Law – a mainstay of Grandage’s reign at the Donmar Warehouse – to realistically carry off the 29-year-old English king.
In complete contrast to the high concept tomfoolery of the season’s previous production (‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’), Grandage keeps things simple here, with handsome period dress and a minimal wooden half-circle set. The only bit of conceptualising is the chorus/boy. Portrayed by Ashley Zhangazha as an incongruously modern, T-shirt-clad youth sent off to war by his tearful mum, he’s an affecting enough reminder that a death at Agincourt was no less pointless than one in Afghanistan.
Still, let’s not pretend that Jude Law isn’t the main attraction here. He’s a good Harry, not a great one, but fans won’t be disappointed. His verse speaking is beautifully lucid and he turns his years to his advantage: from his poised first appearance sat on an incense-clouded throne, this is a Henry whose notorious wild years are further behind him than is usual.
Yet there are moments when he pointedly dispels his kingly façade to summon the ghost of his reckless youth: working himself into a berserker fury to rip his French foes to shreds; delivering the uber-patriotic St Crispin’s Day speech with the elan of a particularly persuasive barrowboy; wooing the princess Katherine (Jessie Buckley) with a twinkling charm that reminds you how good he was in those Hollywood romcoms back in the day.
There’s able support all round – it’s a plum comic role, but Matt Ryan injects real muscle and charisma into patriotic Welsh soldier Fluellan – and, as one expects with Grandage and Shakespeare, it’s never less than crystal clear and exquisitely spoken. But it lacks the drive, passion and politics of recent productions at the Globe and NT. Grandage dampens down the play’s patriotic fervour – Law’s Henry is distinctly non-triumphalist – but also its disgust at war, and the darker moments in the climactic Battle of Agincourt are edited out.
What you’re left with is a tasteful production that retains a judicious ambivalence towards its hero’s actions. Yet for all Law’s manly railing, it’s just that bit too bloodless, and in danger of disappearing up its own class.
By Andrzej Lukowski
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4.3 / 5
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As a foreigner, watching Henri V made myself almost English... The play is wonderful!!!! Dificult is getting out of the Theatre without discussing Shakespeare in a dinner with Jude Law... :(
Since I went off on one, without caring about proofreading, I should clarify, for anyone trying to follow my review below, one pronouncement that was itself a little thin. I meant that the thinking around the character, the building a library mental images of your character's life and circumstances, manifests itself unconsciously in your voice and body, and I think this is what frees them up of fear, and enables you to just 'be' the character in performance. Go on, try it yourself - I bet you can act your best friends or certain celebrities pretty well...
It was alright....Undergraduate-level might sum it up. I'd pick on the acting. Which scenes do you remember in brightest detail? The ones the characters had the most imagination in. Unfortunately although the verse and prose-speaking is fluid in a way, it was mainly 'efficient' and 'general' because there wasn't much imagination behind it. Therefore the acting fell back on cliches most of the time. When most of the characterisation is thin and cliched, you just don't get the play transmitted to you in any depth or with much clarity. With Shakespearean language, especially the verse, you have to relish and fresh-mint it. It needs energy, diction and truth - and a kind of relaxation into it. And then the actor needs to do the usual work of thinking through the character's life (as dictated by the text) to bring a sense of how they live, how they would react to any situation. This thinking around the character manifests itself in the body and in the voice and the character then seems authentic and original. And this is what makes acting good. I noticed stress in most actors who were not speaking - they simply didn't know their character well enough to even stand believably, and it was rather painful to watch. The Welshman Fluellan stood out, along with the two female actors in their characters - they brought their lives on with them, and hey presto - the play came to life. It is of course easier to 'relax' into a comic text, but they still fleshed out their characters. I'd say Henry, Pistol and some of the rest were variable - it came and went, usually coming in the most comedic bits of course. As for Chorus - he was pretty abominable simply because you always need a confident personality to act as the conduit - even if the character themselves is not confident. Think brilliant panto leads with that character depth! These characters have to confidently direct the performance for you - even if they have a nervous dispostition or whatever. It is simply embarrassing to come across at 50% wattage. All in all, the standard seems quite unacceptable at a professional level. II wonder if Grandage is known as an 'actor's director' simply because it looks like he's made it easy for them to get through it all without caring too much about imagination. There is no sense of time or place or weather or energy levels so the flat feeling remains. Ironically, we are asked to imagine these things at the start, but there's been no attempt to get the cast to play these circumstances. The tempo is far too even-handed, and it lacks drama - you are rarely surprised or even delighted by what happens between two or more characters, or by what comes next There's also not much sense of feeling everything's at stake. I liked the lighting, the costume design - creating rather lush Renaissance pictures at times, at odds with the depth present in the performance. And you know what, the writing was genius. It's alright, Michael, it's not terrible, and thanks for staging it, but it's just stuck at a university level.
Loved it. Walking in, I was a little unsure of Mr. Law in Shakespeare, but he was terrific. I'd see it again if I didn't have to return to New York to pay for my London vacation....
Am I French, am I Dutch, am I English?..Who cares anyway but I know my Shakespeare and I thank England for the universal gift she offered us with the Bard. If you love the Epic you cannot help considering Henry V as the jewel of jewels crafted by Great Will. Another detail for you Andrzej, I think it's pretty irrelevant to speak of the age of Jude Law as a potential obstacle to play a 29-year-old king. Can you think one moment that being 29 in 1415 is the same as being 29 today? Come on you know better than this and precisely the age of Jude Law makes him a very apt king Henry, he has maturity enough and that terribly matters. Then the king is a very witty king (Shakespeare's heroes are masters of wit) and with his natural sense of humour and his smart and witty look Jude is a potentially perfect Henry. In his first major cue, the response to the "tennis balls", the tone, the accents , the gestures..perfectly convey what the play intends to convey: the play is set in motion. Every scene is just, is psychologically perfectly rendered. And come on, in the last scene with Princess Katharine no British actor can match Jude, for his natural sense of humour, his gentlemanly manners, his powerful charm..and the resistance of that French lady triggers off an immense response from the audience (SAY YOU LOVE HIM FOR GOD's SAKE!!!!) and this connection with the audience, this is precisely what drama is about!!! One more thing about Jude, he was extremely convincing in Stalingrad, a film in which courage, heroism, self-sacrifice are the prevailing values, virtues..so I knew Jude Law could be the perfect match for the part...My expectations were tremendous...And the play is beyond my wildest dreams:imaginary puissance has become theatrical puissance, every single moment of the play is safely locked in my memory engraved (and will be passed on to many, rely on me!)! Can you imagine a more regal and humane Henry, a wittier and smarter monarch, a more charming Henry wooing a French Princess, a greater master of ceremony fully aware of his duty...I THINK NOT..This is the play of a lifetime I desire no other Henry.. In this dazzling and ethereal interpretation other stars also twinkle, shimmer and it's impossible not to mention ,among the sublime cast,Matt Ryan as the larger-than-life Welshman (with his implacable funny rhetoric!!) Fluellen, Ron Cook as Pistol (Very moving..), Ashley Zhangazha entrusted with the tremendous honour of carrying all the prologues and the boy's part, and the magnificent Jessie Buckley, A French princess, who finds that English words can seem very bawdy, obscene in French.. The best Henry, you could ever wish to see, the performance of a lifetime...It's so out of this world: TRANCENDENTAL PUISSANCE AT NOEL COWARD THEATRE, THANK YOU JUDE AND THE CAST, THANK YOU MICHAEL GRANDAGE&CO, I know I will never again in my life watch the play on stage, I don't need to be disappointed, I simply feel sorry for those who cannot appreciate the masterful feat performed by Jude&Co...IMAGINARY PUISSANCE ENGRAVED IN OUR MEMORIES
A great production. All round good acting from all the cast the Hostess in particular stood out for me. Jude of course is very good and brings laddish charm to the role. His seduction of Catherine was made for him and very entertaining. Really enjoyed it.
For not being British, this play was tricky for me, but I did like it, i thought Jude plays very well.
The most boring production I've ever seen, very static, slow and unimpressive. Even Jude Law cannot save it. Utterly disappointed and left after the first half.
Absolutely stunning production, slightly modernised, accessible to those finding Shakespeare threatening and yet taking nothing away from the play itself. Loved the simple set and the use of lighting. Jude Law's chavy flirting attempts with 'Kate' are hilarious. For me, Ashley Zhangazha's modern character makes the play. A definite must on theatre visit lists this season.