WITH some corner of the world always blighted by war much seems to be expected of any new production of Henry V. Currently Europe is of course struggling to deal with the migrant crisis as desperate people displaced by war seek safe haven.
It is also the play which was famously used to rally a nation during its darkest hour, and while times may have changed it has lost none of its verbal power to inspire, and some its words will no doubt echo in the England dressing room ahead of matches during the Rugby World Cup.
But as RSC artistic director Greg Doran reaches the half way point of his own journey through the Histories, his production is more focused on the effects of going to war, rather than making any direct comment on contemporary events.
In the title-role, Alex Hassell possesses the good looks of a warrior Henry, but his is also a King with a perfectly balanced sense of both conviction and a certain vulnerability. The considered call to arms of ‘once more’ and ‘happy few’ both have Henry almost questioning his own words as he speaks them.
His encounter with Michael Williams (Simon Yaddo) on the eve of battle is equally powerful as the question is again asked – what’s it all about?
There is also much humour in this production – from Oliver Ford Davies’ cardigan-wearing Chorus to leek-battering Welshman Fluellen (Joshua Richards), unintelligible Scotsman (also Simon Yaddo), camp Dauphin (Robert Gilbert), and mispronunciating Princess Katherine (Jennifer Kirby.
It is all set against Stephen Brinson Lewis’s clever design of an ever-changing hologram-like backdrop, and an English army costume history from St George-draped Crusader to tin helmet wearing Tommy.
Shakespeare’s play, in this the 600th anniversary of Agincourt, will always lend itself to modern day interpretation, and while this production may not speak directly of current events, it is nonetheless a thoughtful, well conceived, and well delivered production.
Henry V runs until October 25. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.