The TheatreguideLondon Review
Hampstead Theatre Summer 2012
This production from Edward Hall's all-male Propeller Theatre Company is crisp, clear, frequently exciting and always intelligent. I can recommend it enthusiastically with the one reservation that it lacks a single quality that would really impress me but that others might not miss.
There are traditionally two readings of Shakespeare's play about the hero-king who conquers France. One celebrates him as a golden boy in a pageant of his triumphs, the other introduces him as an untried leader who discovers his heroic stature along with us as the play progresses. (See the Olivier and Branagh films for prime examples of the two approaches.)
Director Hall has chosen a third path. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart plays a Henry much deeper and more complex than most golden-boy kings. He's intelligent, feeling, self-aware and confident enough to have a sense of humour and irony, chuckling at things ranging from the Dauphin's insults to Fluellen's enthusiasms.
My one disappointment is that he's that way from the start, fully formed and with nowhere to go with the character. Scroop's treachery shakes this Henry a little, but nothing else seems to affect him enough to move him to growth, change or development.
So we have a much more interesting, and therefore more attractive Henry than some productions give us, but still a static one, without the character growth and discovery of others.
That reservation aside, there is much to admire and enjoy here, even beyond Bruce-Lochart's performance. Hall and designer Michael Pavelka set the play in a modern army, which at first seems a mistake, Shakespearean soldiers with machine guns having become almost as dreary a cliché as a fascist-era Julius Caesar.
But Hall is imagining the modern soldiers putting on the play, bringing their military sensibilities to it without imposing annoying anachronisms, and it works. In place of Shakespeare's single Chorus figure, Hall breaks up those speeches so the entire company are pushing each other aside in their infectious enthusiasm to tell this rattling good story, a variant on the Nicholas Nickleby narrative device that is particularly evocative here.
Propeller have long since learned how to overcome any problems – audience giggles, etc. - that might arise from an all-male cast, and Karl Davies never tries to pretend that his Katherine is not a man in a dress but transcends that to make us relate to his character.
There are a few noticeable cuts – Falstaff's offstage death, some of Fluellen's obsessiveness about the rules of war, some of the French pre-battle chatter – and before and during the climactic battle director Hall chops up separate scenes to cut back and forth between the French and English in an effectively cinematic way.
Despite multiple doubling and redoubling of roles, it is always clear who we're seeing and what's going on. There were a couple of school groups in my audience, always an acid test for Shakespeare productions, and I can report that they were held throughout, following the action, laughing when they were meant to, being caught up in the excitement when they were meant to.
If I would ideally like a little more, this is still as fine a Henry V as most (even I) could ask for.
(Propeller is finishing up a world tour with a season at the Hampstead Theatre, with Henry V in repertory with The Winter's Tale.)
Review - Henry V - Propeller at Hampstead Theatre 2012
|Buy this title at AMAZON.COM or AMAZON.CO.UK|