Henry V

Last Friday I went to see Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe on the South bank. It was a bit of a late birthday treat and I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon watching the play in that wonderfully recreated “wooden O”. Perhaps my only niggles would be the extraordinarily irritating laugh of a woman sitting next to us and the decision of what appeared to be every helicopter in London to fly over the airspace above the theatre! But the performance itself was first class.

I knew Henry V as one of Shakespeare’s great studies in leadership, or more accurately kingship, but I hadn’t so much appreciated just how much it is also a study of Englishness. The character of Henry himself being something of an idealised Englishman.

I thought Jamie Parker was excellent as Henry. He was less strong in the characters’ more introspective moments, but in the battle scenes he was totally believable. You could really buy in to the idea that this guy was a military commander. Indeed, I felt there was more than a little touch of Sandhurst about Henry as he made decisions and gave commands.

He was also believable, and very likeable, in the scene where the king woos Princess Katherine of France. Shakespeare gives us, indeed helped originate, that great stereotype of the posh Englishman who is totally at home on the battlefield, or the sports field, but comes undone when he has to talk to a woman he is attracted to. Think Hugh Grant in four weddings and a funeral and a host of other romantic comedies. Parker did this excellently.

It struck me that Shakespeare makes you admire the King for his ability to command, like him for his common touch, and want to follow him after those famous rousing patriotic speeches. But that you only really fall in love with Henry after the wooing of Katherine.

Other performances I would highlight would be Sam Cox as a nicely disreputable pistol, and Olivia Ross who was very funny as Princess Katherine. I have to say I took some pleasure in watching the reactions of a party of schoolchildren during the especially rude bits of the scene where she makes a comical attempt to learn English. I also thought she was very good as the “boy”, a performance which helped make his murder one of the more powerful moments of the play – getting gasps from the audience.

However, I thought the standout was Brendan O’Hea as the stereotypical garrulous comic Welshman Captain Fluellen. He made you laugh at his pomposity and self conceit but also retain a genuine sympathy for the character for his loyalty and decency. It was a very fine performance, “look you”.

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