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A CurtainUp London Review
The play opens with the bishops using a velvet covered privy on stage which has us hoping no-one will suffer from the medieval scourge of the dreaded flux! The acts before the interval were a tad heavy going for me with Brid Brennan’s sincere, if uninspiring chorus but in the second half all gets more interesting. The first half hour also suffered from being buzzed by an inconsiderate helicopter more interested in his passengers’ bird’s eye view of London that in the level of audibility at the Globe, although all credit to the cast for raising their act to be heard over the din. However I did wonder if whether we could have borrowed one of the earth to air missiles being erected in London to intercept any potential aerial attack on the Olympic Stadium next month.
The Dauphin (Kurt Egyiawan)’s insult of tennis balls sent to the underestimated English king elicits the promise from Henry V with memorable imagery, “. . .this mock of his. Hath turn’d his balls to gun stones.” The play is full of nationalism and wonderful bravado and of course anti-French feeling, “No King of England if not King of France” promises Henry V. Pistol, interesting casting here with the lanky Sam Cox, plays on his name with a hand revolver gesture taking aim as he bids farewell to Mistress Quickly (Lisa Stevenson) but despite the amenability of the Globe groundlings to humour, the comic scenes work less well than the stirring war cries. The siege of Harflleur seems glossed over and after some Tudor wit between Captains MacMorris (James Lailey), Fluellen (Brendan O’Hea) and the deliberately incomprehensible Captain Jamy (Chris Starkie) we all relax with the French princess (Olivia Ross)’s charming English lesson with its play on naughty words in French.
After the interval, the French warm up with stylised Tai Chi type moves as the chorus wanes on. The message here is that the French are all style and no substance. The touch of Harry in the night always works well as the king walks among his people, and the St Crispian’s Day speech, delivered magnificently by Jamie Parker, has all the hairs on your arm standing to attention. Giles Cooper speaks with beautiful clarity as the French envoy Montjoy before we get two battle set pieces: first the choreographed mime of the long bowmen and then the bloody battle with halberds to the sonic backdrop of sacred chanting of monks. The cowardly French kill the boys with less emotional punch than I have seen and felt.
It is Jamie Parker’s night although I also liked Matthew Flynn’s Captain Gower as a straight foil to the ridiculous Fluellen from Brendan O’Hea. Parker is clad in a long robe which exaggerates the awkwardness he has as warrior turned wooer for the courting of Katherine. Musicians play traditional instruments, trumpets, sackbuts and lute. As ever the finale is simply gorgeous with a stomping, stamping gleeful dance and of course the audience’s delighted applause.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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