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A CurtainUp London London Review
Henry V

"I speak to thee plain soldier." — Henry V
Henry V
Jude Law as Henry V (Photo: Johan Persson)
Michael Grandage crowns his opening five play West End season with a production of Henry V starring Jude Law, Grandage's award winning Hamlet of a few years back. Henry V is a blend of anti-French nationalism and a portrait of the horrors of war. The mention too of the Sallic law reminds us that the reasons for going to war can be flawed.

The Prologue is spoken beautifully by The Boy (Ashley Zangahza) but less is made of the terrible slaughter of the innocents in this production. He also appears at the finale, a non reminder of his grisly fate along with all the boys killed by the cowardly French retreating army.

Henry V's youth has been well documented by Shakespeare in Henry IV Parts One and Two and it is from Prince Hal's spending of his wild oats in the denizens of Cheapside that we attribute Henry V's ability to speak to the crowd in a language they understand. The problem here is that Jude Law seems not to have remembered that he also had a courtly upbringing and in the court, he would not speak with a south east London accent. But this is a small niggle about what is elsewhere a princely performance from Law. He speaks the verse with grace and ease and the most enjoyable scenes are him in modest mode as he courts sweet Katherine the French princess (Jessie Buckley, showing she made a wise career choice when she retrained for Shakespearean acting after being a runner up in the BBC television casting for Nancy in Oliver!).

Law's king makes inspirational speeches and his justice shows no favouritism when condemning the courtly traitors Scroop, Cambridge and Grey or at the other end of the social scale, his former drinking friend Bardolph. The rousing battle cry speech, "Once more into the breach" is delivered well by the soldier king. The French aristocrats in Grandage's production are shown as vainglorious and arrogant self absorbed soldiers and deserving of a good beating as they rate themselves by the fashion of their armour or the grace of their horse. I was reminded of the Monty Python caricature of the French and the Francophobe in me greatly enjoyed this.

We wonder each year what will be the latest effect that the set designers incorporate. In Christopher Oram's set, as in the fire in Strangers on a Train, it is the real flames of the camp fires in the English camp. Pistol (Ron Cook)'s words to Harry in disguise, "Art thou officer or art thou base, common and popular?" ring with irony.

Henry reminds us about the deposing of Richard II by his father Henry IV and the burden carried by his father. The wooing scenes brighten up Grandage's production which has dull moments in the first half, and make the second half special as the king admits to being a beginner in courtship and etiquette. "Oh Kate", he says "Nice customs curtsey to great kings."

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Henry V
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Grandage

Starring: Jude Law, Jessie Buckley
With: Ashley Zangazha, Michael Hadley, Richard Clifford, Edward Harrison, James Laurenson, Prasanna Puwanrajah, Norman Bowman, Ron Cook, Noma Dumezwemi, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Ian Drysdale, Harry Attwell, Matt Ryan, Christopher Heyward, Rhys Meredith, Fred Lancaster, Maddie Rice
Designed by Christopher Oram
Lighting: Neil Austin
Composer and Sound: Adam Cork
Movement: Michael Ashcroft
Running time: Two hours 35 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5141
Booking to 15 February 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th December 2013 performance at the Noel Coward Theatre St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AH (Tube: Covent Garden)

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