The Globe has a special relationship with Henry V: the play opened the new theatre and any bardophile is sure to thrill at the lines referring to “this wooden O” when they hear them in situ. With the bunting still out on the streets, Shakespeare’s most patriotic king is in tune with this summer. Henry’s rallying “once more unto the breach” is addressed so directly to the audience that it receives spontaneous applause. And it is richly deserved: Dominic Dromgoole’s new production is a triumph.
Droomgoole is too intelligent a director to reduce Henry V to jingoism. Fully at home in The Globe, he brings out the nuances in the play with all its bittersweet humour. There’s a tremendous performance from Brendan O’Hea as the leek-loving Welshman Fluellen, providing a cynical twist on patriotism. Leading the low life is the superb Sam Cox as Pistol, getting the laughs while reminding us that those who suffer most in war are often the poor.
The production is aided immeasurably by a wonderful performance from Brid Brennan in the role of the chorus. She sets the scenes, urging us to “work our thoughts” with beautiful clarity, perfectly reflecting Droomgoole’s simple, no-nonsense approach. This Henry V is full of confidence, it has faith in the play, and the production’s achievement is to show off Shakespeare at his very best.
The jewel in the crown of Droomgoole’s Henry V is Jamie Parker in the title role. Martial certainly, blood curdling when he has to be, but also full of charm, Parker’s frequently understated performance shows total control (he’s even better than Branagh), and you want to back him and even fight for him. This is a truly glorious reign, certain to make any theatre lover happy.
Until 26 August 2012
Photo by John Haynes
Written 14 June 2012 for The London Magazine