Henry V ★★★★ Donmar Warehouse | Feb 12 - Apr 9, 2022

Henry V is a difficult play to reconcile with contemporary values. While it might once have been read as a celebration England's military prowess with Henry representing the quintessential warrior king, it is now redolent of a questionable chauvinism and imperialism which leads to a cruel war over obscure dynastic claims. Director, Max Webster, has done a valiant job of trying to reinterpret the work, making it both comprehensible and relevant to present attitudes. The complex genealogical argument about Salic law is cleverly explained, and the addition of music, plus Benoit Swan Pouffer's movement sequences, bring texture to the narrative. The pace is brisk and there is a necessary abridging and some contemporary humour help to carry the piece. However, while these tactics mostly work, sometimes they are less successful. The decision to have the French court speak exclusively in French worked at first, but eventually reading the screen translations is a distraction from the performances. And, the performances are worthy of the audience's full attention! Kit Harington, alias Jon Snow, does a fine job of creating a Henry who moves from an addiction to pleasure, to a fixation on power. He creates a multifaceted character who is completely compelling. Harington is supported by a generally strong cast with some outstanding work by Jude Akuwudike as the King of France/Canterbury/Erpingham. While the originally intended attitude towards the realpolitik portrayed in the play might be questionable, it is undeniable that this subject matter is as relevant today as when Shakespeare penned it. This is a production that engages an important contemporary issue in a thoughtful and provocative way.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Helen Murray.

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