Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
After wowing critics and audiences alike with last year’s double bill of Richard II and The Comedy of Errors, it was inevitable, perhaps, that this year’s—odd—coupling of Henry V and The Winter’s Tale was going to fall somewhat short.
Henry V is a cold fish and the play an unhappy and leaden mix of both ‘jaw jaw’ and ‘war war’, while the explanation of ‘Salic Law’ early on is enough to make a bishop kick a stained glass window in, as Raymond Chandler had it.
The cast do their damnedest to invest proceedings with pep, leavening things with their usual mixture of music and song—"London Calling", by The Clash, "A Pair of Brown Eyes" by The Pogues—but, despite this, the staging is hamstrung by the inevitable difficulty of depicting battle scenes—which is why the play has succeeded best on screen—and by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s Henry V.
His voice simply lacks the power and projection to make the big speeches work. And, given the choice between having Henry’s happy few run across the stage and yell, in order to create the impression of conflict, and run across the stage with flags and yell—the RSC default choice of recent years—director Edward Hall opts for the former. It unfortunately brings to mind ‘the Battley Townswomen’s Guild’s re-enactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbour’.
In rating the production a disappointment then one has to qualify this—as Sir Thomas Beecham said when faced with the task of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, “What can you do with it? It’s like a lot of yaks jumping about.”
Reviewer: Pete Wood