It’s apparently the summer of Henry Five, as three productions are being done in London nearly simultaneously – at the Globe, Hampstead Theater (by Propellor, woo!), and at “a location to be announced” by Theater Delicatessen. I was quite impressed by their production of Contractions and was curious to see their followup production, which, gossip had it, was set in a former BBC studio in Marylebone.
It’s now a full month since this show opened its doors, so I’ll make my review fairly brief. The setting was magnificent; an upstairs of astroturf, bean bag chairs, and picnic tables, all feeling like a pleasant summer on Tooting Common – yet somehow strange with the spots on the poofs and the patrolling soldiers – perhaps we were innocent civilians at Agincourt unaware of the slaughter to come? Downstairs we had a proper installation that felt very much like a war bunker and which really, really used the natural space to build an imaginary space. We had a soldiers’ dormitory glanced through the corner of our eyes as we walked into the main room; a surgery in the back; a communications room across from the beds where I took my seat; a mess room complete with soldiers (and spare space for paying customers); and a multi-purpose room defined by a spiral staircase, camo netting, and an altar that was church, war room, reception hall, French command center and so forth as needed. We, the audience, were against the walls throughout the space (including a precarious position next to the altar – hope those folks did okay, I would have been nervous sitting there), with occasionally blocked sightlines pretty much everywhere (I missed all of the St Crispin’s day speech due to an ill-located pillar) though none seemed too fatal. Sadly, we stayed in this area for all of the play, and failed to go upstairs for the big battle as I’d hoped we would – on the fake green grass, the whole thing would have been a lot like croquet.
As a fan of site specific theater, I want to heap praises on this production, especially in comparison to the heinous Punchdrunk version of Duchess of Malfi. There, too much space was ill used and drained the imagination; here, we were engaged and allowed to imagine further details beyond the small details that had been filled in. As a setting for this play, Theater Delicatessen really hit the mark; the battlefield and the fields of diplomacy all came alive for me.
While the acting was generally good (I wasn’t convinced by Laura Martin-Simpson’s Katherine, but that’s a quibble), my greater problem was the excess of detail in the script. Yes, I’m sure there had to be at least some cut out, but by the time Henry was surveying Agincourt the night before the battle, I was already tired out. As if reading my mind, a page came down to alert Henry … that his soliloquy was running over? Oops, unfortunately not. And nobody saw fit to cut the overly detailed list of French nobles who hadn’t made it through the fight. I mean, REALLY. Could we not have done without?
And with so much time focused on what I considered irrelevant details, the fun bits of the wooing of Katherine just completely lost steam. We’d only seen her for about five minutes much earlier on a helicopter, and the twenty minutes or so at the end (maybe it was only ten?) where Henry attempts to convince her of his love just … well, I didn’t buy it. I didn’t care if she said yes or no and just wanted it to all be over.
In retrospect, I feel this production doesn’t hold up to the insane energy of my first Henry V, performed at Southwark Playhouse as an actual sporting competition between the French and the English. That was damned fun and had me on the edge of my seat. Theater Delicatessen got the set and the acting, but they just couldn’t maintain the energy for the night.
(This review is for a performance that took place on June 27th, 2012. The show ends June 30th.)