Review – Jude Law’s Henry V – Michael Grandage Company at the Noel Coward Theatre


For fans of the long winter’s nap, I give to you the final show in Michael Grandage’s first London season, the “Jude Law Henry the Fifth,” just in time for Christmas. We’ve had a surfeit of Henrys in the last few years, but I suppose for someone who’s feeling a little inadequate about their standing in the public affections or their hairline, it must be an irresistible role. And for Grandage, we have another coup: a popular and populist play (hitting many of the old English jingoes) staffed by a movie actor not only well known but of proven mettle (he did hold down Hamlet not so long ago and thus nicely pips James Earl Jones’s Much Ado). So we’re guaranteed another series of sell-out houses and thus very likely another season of Michael Grandage produced plays, about which more presently.

But first, back to the play. Admittedly sitting in the back half of the stalls, underneath the oppressive ceiling, with the whole set looking a bit like panoramic television and my knees tucked to the side to avoid hitting the seats in front of me, I wasn’t really at my best for physically enjoying this play. But as we went through one war preparation after another and the tedious Hotspur scenes, I couldn’t help but feeling something was missing. Were the actors flat? They certainly knew their lines well enough. Was there too much play in total? It was cut down to finish up at about 10 PM, so … just what was it really that made me want to punch the air and say “Yes!” when the Dauphin said, “What a long night this is!” There was just no spark, no energy, and that’s fatal to this play and dishonest to the script. I’ve seen it done in a bunker space where the fear of war had me feeling edgy and nervous, and as a sporting match that had me cheering and laughing, but this version, dry and nerveless, has no reason to exist other than putting butts in seats. It was especially telling that of the three, count them, three women I brought with me, all of whom were excited about seeing Jude Law on stage, two of them left at the interval (both had nodded off) and the third only stayed when bribed with ice cream.

The positive side of this is that the tickets were still only 10 quid each so nobody felt like their money was wasted. But I have to have a word now with Mr Grandage about his overall season.

Dear Michael,
Of the five shows (I saw them all, I stayed all the way through the lot), only one of them was actually worth seeing: Cripple of Inishmaan. I am angry at the amount of effort and energy that has been put forth in delivering bland works to audiences in whom you appear to have little trust. Sure, a celebrity cast Shakespeare is a profit turner, but we had two of those, and the one original play done as a part of this season came off as a painful vanity project driven more by the need to showcase two very brilliant stars rather than to create a good work of theater.

I don’t regret the fifty quid I spent to get my season’s worth of tickets, and I thank you, Mr Grandage, for your effort to make theater affordable to the average Londoner. But next year, you should do MORE new works, fresher plays, and less boring old warhorses. Brilliant actors are wasted on tripe. Next year, I say seven shows: two modern, two new, one war horse, and two mini-seasons (two or three weeks each) for two really new shows that would benefit from a higher profile – things you’d normally see at the Royal Court, like Constellations and The River. We’ve got the most intelligent, best educated theater audience in the world here in London, and we deserve better. Michael Grandage, I want you to step up to the plate, step away from the trough, and really make your next year’s season the golden star it should have been in the West End’s night sky. There is no excuse for the flabby decisions you made this year.

All the best, Webcowgirl.

(This review is for for a performance that took place on Tuesday November 26, 2013.)

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6 Responses to “Review – Jude Law’s Henry V – Michael Grandage Company at the Noel Coward Theatre”

  1. John Keheley Says:

    Hi Webcowgirl! I love your blog and read up before my trips from the US to London to get an idea of what I might want to see.

    I have to slightly disagree with you on Michael Grandage. I was only in town while one production was playing, but I have to say I thought it was fantastic and was one of my favorites from the trip. I am sad you disagree. The show I am speaking of is Privates on Parade. I had never seen the show before, but I absolutely loved it! Maybe you saw a better production elsewhere, but for me it was enthralling. And sadly, something not likely to be done much in the US. It really stuck with me for days afterward and I can’t imagine anything I would want them to have done differently.

    Anyway, thanks for all your posts and I can’t believe the first time I comment is to disagree. 😦 I guess that is a testament to how much I really loved the show.

    On a side note, I love your list of cheap eats and have taken advantage of it on my last 2 or 3 trips. Very helpful! I will be back in London from Feb 1 through Feb 8. I can’t wait!

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Hi John! I saw Privates on Parade twice and really disliked it: the racism at its core offended me terribly, and I found the characters all shallow and not credible. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hope I can help you find some nice shows when you come back!

      • John Keheley Says:

        Hi again!

        I understand your issue with the racism. It bothered me too as did the homophobia, but I accepted it as appropriate for the time period.

        Anyway, sorry it took me so long to respond but I was gone for Thanksgiving.

        Currently for my trip I have tickets to:

        The Duchess of Malfi
        Ellen Terry w/Eileen Atkins
        Oh, What A Lovely War (sort of regretting this one, but maybe it will surprise me)
        Red Velvet

        I am hoping to get day seats or GILT tickets for:

        Jersey Boys (I have seen it before, but can’t find another Tuesday matinee – do you know of anything?)
        The Weir
        Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
        Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
        The Commitments

        and my backup list is:

        Strangers on a Train
        From Here to Eternity
        Twelve Angry Men
        Fortune’s Fool
        Stephen Ward
        Emil and the Detectives

        Thanks again for your blog and tips. It is super helpful to folks like me. I am sad I am going to miss HMS Pinafore and American Psycho. 😦

  2. charmianpoems Says:

    hi webcowgirl, I saw this last night and agree with everything you say. I thought ‘why is this on?’ There was no tension, no feeling of development or conflict, just a linear procession of events.I was excruciatingly uncomfortable in seats that were probably better than yours- and I have short legs. I’ve seen some much more exciting productions by much lesser actors- Macbeth in a deserted Peckham factory- but they had an energy, a drive, a force, a reason to be, that this completely lacked. The second half was better than the first, but by then the end was in sight!

  3. Clare Checksfield Says:

    I agree, too. I was ready to be swayed, but the back of the balcony gave me the right perspective: too distant and just not good enough. We have to feel we know, and understand, Henry, not just admire his swagger.

  4. Review – Richard II – Malachite Theater at St Leonard’s Church (Shoreditch) | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] the wronged king-to-be. I couldn’t help but contrast his performance with that of the watery Jude Law as Henry V (one of the shows that burnt me out on Shakespeare for the year). Instead of watching a name actor […]

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