Review: Henry V @ Barbican ****

I’m forgoing Friday Fav’s this week in favour of my continuing series of Barbican reviews.
Today’s is the last individual review and next week I’ll do a summary of the whole experience. So on to the final part of the RSC’s King and Country Cycle, Henry V: a rip roaring crowd pleaser of a production.

Alex Hassell as King Henry V. Photo © Keith Pattison

Splitting our time between England and France, we see Alex Hassell’s Henry V taking naturally to the role of King. While conveying a sense  of great power and presence, Hassell cleverly plays some moments where we see ‘a touch of Harry’ come out. When faced with a French envoy who brings an insulting message from their King, Hassell responds with a composed message of war shortly followed by an almost childish and angry comeback which is a nice touch. His ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech is the best one he’s done in the Cycle and one of the only versions I’ve seen which truly calls to the audience and utilizes So rousing is it, that I wanted to cheer back. Unfortunately, in the great expanse of the big Barbican, some of the intimacy of this moment is lost. If this was the Globe, I’m sure he would have had a chorus of cheers in response.

Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Orleans, Robert Gilbert as Dauphin, Evelyn Miller as Rambures, and Sam Marks as Constable of France. Photo © Keith Pattison

We have comedic moments throughout this play, Henry’s wooing of Jennifer Kerby’s Kate being one of them. The two have great chemistry and are able to play it as if they have never met before. Kerby’s earlier scene learning the anatomy of man is particularly funny…once I realised what was going on (my french is a tad rusty!) The French court scenes with Robert Gilbert’s outrageous Dauhpin and Sam Marks’ Constable are played for laughs too, although I’m 90% this whole Cycle should just be renamed: King and Country, or Everyone Wants to Snog Sam Marks!

Anthony Byrne as Pistol, Christopher Middleton as Nym, Joshua Richards as Bardolph, Sarah Parks as Mistress Quickly, and Martin Bassindale as Boy. Photo © Keith Pattison

Elsewhere, an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman go to war. And there are multiple punch lines! Yes, it’s full of stereotypes but it’s actually funny. Other stock characters play things a bit more somber, as we see the death of Falstaff hit Anthony Byrne’s Pistol and the others hard. While their subplot at points feels like it’s dragging the play out, their reaction to this was well played. Quick note: hats off to Joshua Richards’ Bardolph who actually had as much character progression as Hal in the Cycle, going from a cowardly fool to a fearsome fighter! Finally, while Oliver Ford Davies does a good reading of the Chorus, I felt they could have done more with it. Or rather anything with it. Especially given what they did with updating the Rumour character in Henry IV Part 2.

Verdict: once more unto the Barbican, dear friends, for a triumphant end to a great theatrical experience.


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