‘Henry V, or Harry England’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare
3 out of 5 stars
Henry V, Shakespeare's Globe, 2019
Sarah Amankwah (Henry V) © Tristam Kenyon

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

An explosive first half gives way to a sloggy second, but Sarah Amankwah makes for a brilliant young king

Sarah Amankwah is too reserved to convince as a party-loving young Prince Hal in the Globe’s ‘Henry IV Parts 1 and 2’. But this is her moment. She’s an excellent Henry V, that mix of ironic humour and androgynous inscrutability making her convincing as a monarch both inexperienced and dangerous.

When the French ambassador responds to Henry’s territorial claims by offering him a chest of ‘treasure’ – which turns out to be a bumper pack of tennis balls – you can see from Amankwah’s sudden, wicked smile that her Henry genuinely finds the joke funny. It is also pretty clear that Henry is going to beat the living shit out of the French.

The explosive first half moves at the pace of a modern thriller: a lot of the superfluous old bores who advise Henry have been cut out, and even the considerably more exciting plot to assassinate the young king has been pared down the point a newbie might need to consult the synopsis. But who cares when it’s this damn exciting?  

This would be Globe Ensemble directors Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi’s finest hour but… then the second half happens. There’s nothing specifically awful, it just gets bogged down in the stuff productions of ‘Henry V’ usually get bogged down in: the dire light-relief Welsh character Captain Fluellen, and Henry’s anticlimactic wooing of Princess Katherine. But there are strategies that directors can take to get around this stuff that the seemingly hands-off Holmes and Bedi simply aren’t interested in. And there’s something odd about Colin Hurley’s performance as Katherine. Unlike nearly every other character played by a member of the opposite sex across these productions, Hurley’s take seems to be a sort of lighthearted ‘bloke-in-a-dress’ schtick that feels jarringly reductive.

None of this is fatal: it’s just a shame that a production previously marked by its daring tightness gives in to familiar longueurs. But that first half really is a thrill. And even when she’s literally having to put up with a guy waggling a leek in her face, Amankwah’s Henry is never less than magnetic.


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