Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Dominic Dromgoole
Reviewer: Ashwin Bhardwaj
The Globe’s rendition of this most patriotic of plays comes in the midst of a summer of nationalistic fervour and monarchist pride. But during the time of Henry Plantaganet, collapsing Spanish banks are the least of Europe’s worries, as the English king lays claim to the lands of France.
Jamie Parker takes on the mantle of the king who has left his partying days behind him and grown into the rôle of warrior. Parker brings out the philosopher element of Henry, reluctant but determined in his aggression – his visiting the troops on the eve of battle and musings on war in its aftermath are sincere and strong. Parker’s comedic skill that worked so well in The History Boys is on display in the wooing scene with Princess Katherine, and his natural charm and easy camaraderie bring out the king’s leadership qualities.
The crux of the play is Henry’s morale-boosting speech at The Battle Of Agincourt, in which he inspires his weary and out-numbered troops to take to the field against fresh French forces. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” is Shakespeare’s most stirring and rousing speech, the cadence and format of which has been emulated by countless leaders ranging from Winston Churchill to Tim Collins, so it is always something of a goosebump moment. But while Parker’s delivery builds and contains grim determination, it falls short of rousing bombast.
The play rattles along at a good pace, spurred on by some excellent humour, which breaks up the otherwise heavy subject of war. Brendan O’Hea is fantastic as the Welsh Captain Fluellen, and Sam Cox is engaging as the Flashman-esque Pistol, while Brid Brennan holds the strands of the story together, playing The Chorus as a serving girl.
The joy of The Globe is it’s ability to immerse us in the Jacobean era, and simple production works most effectively. Dominic Dromgoole’s interpretation does that splendidly with plausible costumes, an uncluttered set and good use of the performance space. The downside of the venue is it’s susceptibility to the elements and, while a clear evening sky chased away the rain, a police helicopter hovering over Borough marred the banter of the initial politicking.
Overall, the play is an emboldening piece looking at the need for determination at times of challenge, with an excellent performance from the lead.