The amazing Terry lights up the stage.
There was lightning in the sky as I drove home from the Open Air Theatre -- and then a torrential overnight storm -- but a different kind of lightning had struck onstage earlier that evening: a production of Henry V that was electrifying in every other sense.
And that's not just because it came with its own fine, fierce and blazing energy, but also for breaking gender barriers in a radical and fluid way. In a year where Glenda Jackson is returning to the London stage for the first time since she was a long-serving London MP to play King Lear at the Old Vic, and Harriet Walter is going to give us her Prospero in rep with Henry IV and Brutus that she' previously played for the Donmar, Michelle Terry now leads the charge of younger actors tackling what are traditionally heroic male roles with Henry V.
But director Robert Hastie has brilliantly conceived a production that shakes up the play throughout -- Katherine, the French princess that Henry woos, is played in turn by a man (Ben Wiggins). But Hastie also gives it a startling modern-dress clarity and urgency, with a truly superb chorus from Charlotte Cornwell that watches the entire proceedings from the sidelines and occasionally moves centrestage to direct and comment on the action: it is she who chooses Terry to wear the crown and play the part.
Played out on a bare metallic stage that at one point has two pools sink in the middle of it as part of a battlefield, it is magnificently illuminated -- in every sense -- by Joshua Carr's lighting design, conscripting the advancing darkness of the evening in this outdoor setting as both the play and the night draw in.
But the amazing Terry lights up the stage, too, throughout, with the force of her intelligence and reason. Our single most timeless play about the state of the nation, it achieves an even bigger resonance watching it on the eve of a vote that may take us out of Europe, but this play -- which sees Britain and France united in a royal marriage -- reminds us that even though we may have communication difficulties with different languages, we share more.
Henry V at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
22 June until 9 July 2016.
What the Press Said...
"The casting of the fine actress Michelle Terry left this viewer not wholly convinced... the production delivers less than it promised."
David Lister for The Independent
" Michelle Terry is riveting as Shakespeare’s wartime king in a production that emphasises how roleplaying is integral to monarchy."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"The production has energy and an air of confident simplicity...It lacks a deeper emotional charge."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard