By William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall
Venue: Hampstead Theatre
Date: Wednesday 11th July
I may have rated this experience slightly lower than the first time we saw this production, but that doesn’t reflect just how much the performances have come on since that early part of the tour. The energy is still there, the dialogue has become much clearer, and this is definitely one of the best Henry V’s I’ve seen. The only thing affecting the rating is that there wasn’t the surprise factor this time, and that often makes an experience less enjoyable for me. The audience certainly seemed as responsive, so I don’t think that came into it.
The set was as before, as were the costumes (Alice didn’t have to sign for the bath this time, though). I think the opening had been changed slightly, with the actors taking different parts of the Chorus perhaps? Understandable on a long run, keeps it fresh. The Archbishop and Bishop’s conversation was crystal clear this time round, and as we weren’t distracted by ‘crap’ staging this time (Globe production), I was aware that the Archbishop’s offer of money for a war had been interrupted by the arrival of the French ambassador – sitting smirking on the chest behind them – and that the king was due to hear the rest of the Archbishop’s Salic law reasoning shortly. Now why can’t they always be that clear?
There was quite a long song to cover the change of set, and then the religious pair kept the king waiting even longer. The Salic law point was dealt with quickly, but in reasonable detail, and the arrival of the tennis balls was just as before. However, this time they made sure they were all off the set before continuing! I’ve seen search terms on this blog connecting ‘Propeller’ and ‘injury’, so I suspect experience has taught some hard lessons on this tour.
The chorus bit was just about over before the balls were all cleared, and then we had the traitors bit. They weren’t taken up the stairs for their execution, just made to kneel on the stage, but they did all die from one axe stroke. Henry didn’t take the axe with him this time. London Calling was still the intro to the rougher elements of the play, but what a change in the dialogue. Admittedly we’d seen the Globe’s production only a couple of weeks ago, and they made this scene clearer than usual so I had a head start, but this was much more understandable through not only their delivery of the lines but also the actions used to indicate their meaning. Again the two scenes were combined, and Mistress Quickly, in her wedding dress, was present without having much to say; they did get the ‘prick’ gag in, though. At the end, when Pistol told the others to kiss his new wife as they left, there was a range of reactions from the crew; some made a valiant attempt, most were put off by the smell, but Nym was the saddest – he couldn’t bring himself to kiss her. She gave him one of the tennis balls padding her bra instead, which he held to his face as he ran off, overcome with emotion. This time I could see the red heart that Pistol gave her, and it had a little glowing light in it – ahh.
Another rendition of Chanson D’Amour, and then the discussion amongst the French nobility; I didn’t spot the Dauphin reacting to the mention of Crecy this time, but we were on the other side of the stage. The rest of the first half was as before, and we headed out quickly to hear the singing and joined in most of the songs.
Katherine was at her toilette when we got back, with her face all white. Just the cheeks and some lipstick and she was ready for her bath. The English lesson came across very well, and then we were back into battle. There were a few changes to the staging that I noticed: Exeter killed Bardolph himself, and the body lay flat with only the boots showing at the front of the platform. Pistol’s prisoner dragged himself onto the stage this time, and the blood sprayed on the boy was a very weak red – running out of Kensington gore? When Henry had his argument with Williams, I noticed that Bates, the other soldier who tells them “Be friends, you English fools”, was played by Gary Shelford, who also played Bardolph, the peace-keeper between Nym and Pistol earlier in the play, and with the same argument – fight the French, not each other.
Apart from a couple of oaths by Pistol that we don’t remember from before – ‘bloody Welsh’ (after the leek-eating incident), and ‘Merde’ (as the French came on to the stage for an early scene) – the rest of the performance was as we remembered, and we joined in the rapturous applause at the end, happy to have seen such a great production a second time.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me