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A CurtainUp London Review
The Prologue is spoken beautifully by The Boy (Ashley Zangahza) but less is made of the terrible slaughter of the innocents in this production. He also appears at the finale, a non reminder of his grisly fate along with all the boys killed by the cowardly French retreating army.
Henry V's youth has been well documented by Shakespeare in Henry IV Parts One and Two and it is from Prince Hal's spending of his wild oats in the denizens of Cheapside that we attribute Henry V's ability to speak to the crowd in a language they understand. The problem here is that Jude Law seems not to have remembered that he also had a courtly upbringing and in the court, he would not speak with a south east London accent. But this is a small niggle about what is elsewhere a princely performance from Law. He speaks the verse with grace and ease and the most enjoyable scenes are him in modest mode as he courts sweet Katherine the French princess (Jessie Buckley, showing she made a wise career choice when she retrained for Shakespearean acting after being a runner up in the BBC television casting for Nancy in Oliver!).
Law's king makes inspirational speeches and his justice shows no favouritism when condemning the courtly traitors Scroop, Cambridge and Grey or at the other end of the social scale, his former drinking friend Bardolph. The rousing battle cry speech, "Once more into the breach" is delivered well by the soldier king. The French aristocrats in Grandage's production are shown as vainglorious and arrogant self absorbed soldiers and deserving of a good beating as they rate themselves by the fashion of their armour or the grace of their horse. I was reminded of the Monty Python caricature of the French and the Francophobe in me greatly enjoyed this.
We wonder each year what will be the latest effect that the set designers incorporate. In Christopher Oram's set, as in the fire in Strangers on a Train, it is the real flames of the camp fires in the English camp. Pistol (Ron Cook)'s words to Harry in disguise, "Art thou officer or art thou base, common and popular?" ring with irony.
Henry reminds us about the deposing of Richard II by his father Henry IV and the burden carried by his father. The wooing scenes brighten up Grandage's production which has dull moments in the first half, and make the second half special as the king admits to being a beginner in courtship and etiquette. "Oh Kate", he says "Nice customs curtsey to great kings."
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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