Henry V marks the final production of the Globe to Globe project, part of the World Shakespeare Festival for the London 2012 Festival. Having toured the UK for six weeks, the production arrives at its spiritual home, Shakespeare’s Wooden O, to mark the opening of 2012 season at the Globe. Dominic Dromgoole’s bare bones production forsakes the pomp and pageantry often associated with Shakespeare’s histories to embrace the spirit and imagination of the text.
Nigel Cooke (Exeter), Jamie Parker (Henry V), James Lailey (Westmoreland) and Brendan O'Hea (Fluellen) in Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Brid Brennan’s persuasive Chorus takes the audience from alehouse to battlefield swiftly and succinctly, presenting epic moments of British history in deeply human terms from archbishops discussing foreign policy while defecating to the very real blood and sweat of the breach at Harfleur.
Jamie Parker’s Henry too demonstrates all the frailty of the human condition, necessarily ruthless yet wracked with doubt. Easily more comfortable expressing a love of England than his love for Olivia Ross’s engaging Katherine, Parker comes full circle here, having played the coltish Prince previously for the company, his Henry is now every inch the King.
Dromgoole also highlights the strong vein of quintessentially British comedy that threads throughout the play. Sam Cox’s wiry Ancient Pistol comes very close, stealing each of his scenes with some deft physical comedy. It is however Brendan O’Hea as Captain Fluellen with a broad Welsh accent and rolling eyes that amply demonstrates how little British humour has changed over 400 years.
Henry V was written for mass appeal, a patriotic celebration of what it is to be English for better or worse. Dromgoole’s production plays to these strengths and as such marks a cultural high point in the 2012 celebrations.