Henry V

William Shakespeare
Marquee TV
Donmar Warehouse

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Kit Harington Credit: Donmar Warehouse

We will shortly be publishing an introduction to the wide range of theatre-related videos on offer from Marquee TV. There will also be a series of reviews giving an overview of what is on offer and, in particular, concentrating on a strong bank of Shakespeare plays.

At the Donmar Warehouse in 2022, Max Webster followed the modern trend of lively, director-led theatre in this updated version of Shakespeare’s depiction of an English warrior king.

At its centre in the title role is Game of Thrones star Kit Harington, depicting a thoroughly modern King. This Henry V is frequently more matter-of-fact than regal, presenting a notable contrast to those more imposing exemplars most remembered for the role such as Lawrence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh or Adrian Lester.

The tone is set as the opening prologue dissolves into a wild disco at which we meet a latter-day Sir John Falstaff, complete with tattooed face and weighed down by piratical jewellery, happily snorting coke and carelessly vacating his stomach.

Webster is always keen to impose his own vision on the play, whether it be the discos, Princess Katharine receiving an English lesson while sparring (complete with boxing gloves) with her lady-in-waiting or the imposition of sometimes intrusive videos and soundscapes.

Contrarily, the wildness is then contrasted with a number of gorgeous choral interludes.

While the director follows contemporary trends including gender-blind casting that can be confusing in martial situations and adds many fresh ideas, they sometimes come at a cost, as much of the poetry and original humour can be subsumed.

Unusually, one innovation sees the French talking to each other exclusively in French. Unless you know the language, the choice is to remain in the dark or turn on subtitles, which then irritatingly continue when the action swaps back to the English.

A husky Kit Harington, possibly ailing, and his fellow cast members, not to mention the overall atmosphere of the production, are well suited to film. They relish the close-ups and somehow the wildness seems fitting in a medium so used to such excesses. The approach may also have worked in the intimate Donmar at which this performance was filmed in front of a live audience.

Each of the supporting actors plays multiple roles (often fluently in two languages) with the pick being Jude Akuwudike as the Archbishop of Canterbury, French King and more, Millicent Wong as the narrator and Boy (Girl) and Kate Duchêne portraying Exeter and the Constable of France.

If you are a fan of Kit Harington or prefer your Shakespeare modernised and filtered through the eyes of an imaginative director, this could be ideal fare.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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