Posts Tagged ‘Henry V’

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

November 27, 2013

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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Mini-review – Henry V – Propeller at Hampstead Theatre

July 26, 2012

There’s no doubt about it, seeing Henry V twice in thirty days was a mistake. This version was better than Theatre Delicatessen’s (I could tell, because I didn’t get bored during the last half hour), but the magic was gone for me. I liked the music, though. And it was cool to see the same cast who was just in The Winter’s Tale perform such different roles.

Memo to self: only one production of any individual Shakespearean play per year. DO NOT FORGET.

(I saw this show on Friday, July 20th, but just couldn’t build up a head of steam to write a review, especially given that it closed before I even looked at my computer again.)

Mini-review – Henry V – Theatre Delicatessen at Marylebone Gardens

June 28, 2012

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.)

Review – Henry V – Southwark Playhouse

March 13, 2010

Henry V in 90 minutes!” Is it really possible? Well, it’s what the ad for the Henry V at the Southwark Playhouse promised. I’m pretty suspicious in general of the history plays as being rather dry, and Shakespeare on a weeknight is something I avoid now that I’m having to get up so early. But Henry V in 90 minutes? Not only did that mean that I could get through a play that I might normally avoid without fear of losing the will to live mid-show, it also meant I could squeeze in a play on a weeknight and not lose my precious (and continued-employment-enabling) beauty sleep. I signed up immediately.

To be honest, I actually have a soft spot for Henry V, since I enjoyed the Kenneth Branagh film, but I’d seen it so long ago I’d pretty much forgotten most of it. And I’m no student of English history. It had all been muddled in my mind as “young English guy invades France, marries cute French girl.” I’d even seen an article on Agincourt in the New York Times in the last year that had talked about how it was British longbow power that had made the victory possible, aided by some truly amazing mud and a wee bit of fudging number-wise in terms of the balance of forces on each side, but it hadn’t registered that this had anything to do with Henry V “a play by Shakespeare.” But it came back to me in the theater. We’d been given passes as we collected our tickets, designating us as English (red, my favorite color) or French (blue), but I didn’t realize that this was going to be anything other than Ourn versus Yourn until I walked into the theater. Two long walls and one short one had seats with blue cushions demarcating them as French; one short wall at the back was us, red, “The English.” We were not just going to be cheering and jeering at each other from across a playing field (er, Channel); we were going to be huddling in our tininess while the mass of the French stared us down. My goodness. Henry wanted US to invade THAT?

The trope of this show (if you haven’t picked it up already) is of a sporting match. The “chorus” (a girl in a yellow jersey with “chorus” on the back – Anna McSweeney) starts out rolling the dice and moving games pieces on a board in the middle of the stage; the English (Gloucester – Eric MacLennan, Exeter – Simon Tierney, and Henry – Tom Greaves)* show up in red jerseys (with their names on the back) over white rugby-type shirts, white shorts, white knee socks, and white court shoes. This white uniform was standard for all of the characters in the show, and changes were effected by switching jerseys; the presence of the names on the back making it easy to tell who was who. The French, of course, are in blue, but the actors (except for Henry, who doesn’t change) went fairly fluidly between sides as necessary.

The movement of this show is actually quite important to how it works; with the teams facing off against each other, marching around “the field” as if they were walking onto the grounds of a stadium to thumping techno. Shots are fired with water pistols; golden balls (echoing both the tennis balls the Dauphin insultingly gives Henry in the first act, but also somehow the Snitch in a Quidditch match) bounce around, knocking down fortresses; the English paddle over the Channel (painted on the floor) in plastic crates. The whole thing is really a lot of fun, and I have to say, as Henry exhorted us to be of good heart on St Crispin’s day, as we poor few English huddled against the back wall with the might of the French staring back at us, I really couldn’t help but feel the power of his words – the powers of the Bard, but also the magic of a really good speaker encouraging his men – his team – to stand together against impossible odds. Suddenly, Agincourt meant something to me, and I felt like I understood a little bit of what it meant to be proud to be English, and what this battle must have meant to them in those days, and maybe even now: an amazing accomplishment made possible not just by the person who dreamed it, but by the people he called upon to do it with him. I was utterly shocked when, after the battle scene, with so much red and blue dead on the floor, the French messenger (Fiona Watson, uniformly good) came to pronounce that England had won the day; but I can only imagine it was just as much as a shock, and a thrill, for the people there to know they did not have to fight anymore.

Now, the acting really wasn’t as sharp as it could have been, and for any purists the amount of cut script had to be sacrilege, but all in all, I found this an enjoyable show. It actually made me feel something new and different, and succeeded in its silliness in bringing the play to life (though the bar stool I sat in put my leg to sleep; avoid them if possible). With tickets running a mere £13 if you bought them early (up to £18 now) and the whole evening done by 9:30, this show is decidedly worth the effort – and I found it far more engaging than the RSC show I’d seen just a week before (Dunsinane) and (in retrospect) more memorable than the much sharper Measure for Measure I saw the next night at the Almeida. I chalk this one up as a win.

* I’m not entirely sure which actors were in this scene as so much of it was cut and I didn’t write down the names on the back of the jerseys, but I think that’s who was there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 11th, 2010. Henry V continues through March 20th. For a host of other reviews, see UpTheWestEnd.com.)