A battle to be King of France between 'two mighty monarchies' is the central theme of this fourth in a series of plays by Shakespeare. But you would have been forgiven for thinking that a modern battle was taking place rather than one that actually occurred more than 600 years ago. Because for the first 30 minutes or so, a Metropolitan Police helicopter seemed hell bent on drowning out every single word that was uttered on the Globe's stage. And it went on for so long that the leading actor, Jamie Parker as Henry V, was forced to glance skyward in a wry mix of disbelief and (one suspects) seething anger. The first slice of the play was thus totally inaudible as the Met's high flyers crept ever closer. I don't know if the Globe's managers pleaded with the helicopter's controllers to get the vehicle to retreat, but eventually it did move off... but very slowly. Such are the trials of outdoor theatre.
First performed around 1599, 'Henry V' is a celebration of the British victory at Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War against france. At the same time, Shakespeare leaves us in no doubt that warfare is a brutal and bloody business, and that victory is bought with large amounts of a very precious currency.
Having cast off his mantle of youthful waywardness (which Shakespeare described in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2) Prince Hal has now assumed the throne of England as Henry V and has a claim to the throne of France as well. When he is offended by a gift of tennis balls from the current King of France, war is inevitable and Henry musters his troops to cross the channel. However, we see little of the bloody battles, with much of the action taking place away from the battlefield. The play is memorable, largely due to the St Crispian's day speech by Henry and his rallying cry to his troops: 'Once more into the breach, dear friends'.
Once the extraneous sound effects had evacuated to spoil the pleasures of some other Londoners, Jamie Parker revealed his royal character to be a valiant soldier, an authoritative commander, but also a man worried that he might be about to lose everything, including the battle in France and his own crown. It's a predictably engaging, effective and enjoyable performance from an actor with terrific charisma and engaging stage presence. But all those obvious talents are still not enough to make this a truly great portrayal – one where, during the St Crispian's day speech, the hairs on your neck stand up and you want to dash off and give your blood for your country. In fact, Jamie Parker has real competition from one Captain Fluellen, a down-to-earth and naive but highly amusing Welshman, wonderfully played by Brendan O'Hea – for my money at least, the real star of the show.
Having already staged 37 plays in 37 different languages in the 'Globe to Globe' season this year, there is only room for 4 plays in the main season which is entitled 'The Play's The Thing'. This new version of Henry V, directed by the Globe's artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole is first on the menu and it is a promising and lively start. But I have seen much better at this address in recent years and I would be disappointed if this was the best on offer this year.
"In a play that has been used both to justify war and oppose it, Parker offers a king who seems to understand conflict in all its facets: his face for much of the production is shrouded in blood, making him look like a warrior hero, but also as if he's weeping bloody tears. Parker played Hal in Henry IV at this address two years ago, and this very much feels like a journey completed: not only does he explore the ritual of being a king, but also the interior life of the man."
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
"This production, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, is period costume, loyally done, blessed with a ruggedly decent Henry. Jamie Parker is handsome, calm, easy in his skin. "
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Admirably large-spirited and beautifully paced production...Jamie Parker is terrific as the young King. "
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Dominic Dromgoole’s revival, opening the summer season, simply harnesses our imaginations. The costumes are plausible period affairs. There’s some gilded scaffolding. Backcloths bear stylish coats of arms. Conventional, perhaps, but it works a treat, and the pacing is superb, helped by the inspired idea of giving the role of the Chorus to the birdlike Irish actress Brid Brennan – who flits about in the guise of a serving wench, like the slighted spirit of “Her-story” "
Dominic Dromgoole for The Daily Telegraph