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A CurtainUp London Review
Henry V
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger."
— Henry V
Jessica Regan as Captain MacMorris/Mountjoy and Michelle Terry as Henry V (Photo: (Johan Persson)
Charlotte Cornwell as the Chorus opens this most famous of Shakespeare's history plays introducing us to Prince Hal now "taking on his kingly mantle" as King Henry V after the death of his father Henry IV who has deposed Richard II. Michelle Terry starts the reign as a nervous monarch but grows in confidence as she progresses through France.

This is the best Brexit play as the English are largely heroic and the French court are shown to be shallow, full of self love, obsessed with fashion and with their horses. The cross gender casting has Michelle Terry as Henry but first we are surprised that the Catholic Church had admitted a woman bishop, Joy Richardson as the Bishop of Ely. The Sallic law is explained to us which denied women's right to inherit thrones but these claims are denied because the Sallic area is in Germany not France. It is through Isabella of France mother to Edward III that Henry V has claims on France.

Mountjoy (Jessica Regan) sniggers as she brings the Dauphin's insulting message to the new English king. I had no idea that tennis was such an aged sport as tennis balls are offered to Henry like toys to a child. But Henry rises to the occasion and sends back the message to the French court that cannon balls will be his answer to them. In the French court we are taken with the decorative braid scrolls on the sleeves of modern suits and shirts with all the naf trimmings.

So to Harfleur where Henry lays siege to the French town with modern artillery fire as soldiers in modern camouflage engage. The Boy (Ben Wiggins) reveals the bad behavior of some of Henry's army, notably Hal's former Cheapside cronies, Nim, Pistol and Bardolph. After a persuasive speech from him the citizens open the great gate with superb sound from Avgoustos Psillas. "Use mercy," instructs Henry to his soldiers as he tells his army to behave well in victory.

Back at the French court, the French Princess Catherine (Ben Wiggins) is learning English from her Nurse Alice (Joy Richardson) in a very saucy way with lots of word play. Wiggins' French accent is excellent. The Dauphin and his courtiers are derisory about the citizens of Harfleur who have surrendered to the English.

After the interval, the French prepare for battle by talking about their fashions, they will wear blue camouflage, and with excessive statements about the fineness of their steeds. We are told the history of Henry V's accession to the throne. His father usurped the throne from Richard II but Henry V is blessed with the divine right of kings.

The magnificent almost Churchillian speech is made before Agincourt with its references to those who fought on St Crispin's day. The battle is staged not with English longbowmen but with cannon fire and rifles, smoke and lighting coming up through the grid floor. There is the sound of artillery fire and drumming with as much battle atmosphere derived from the blinding back lighting as you could have in an indoor theatre. The battle field is flooded in areas reminding us of the hundred years since the battle of the Somme.

The French choose to murder the boys, just children, left alone in the English camp which of course incenses the English. A photo opportunity is staged as Henry and the King of France (David Sibley) sign the peace with the dynastic marriage between Catherine and Henry as a part of the terms. Here Robert Hastie scores a first for me when his tall cross gender princess shows how much she disapproves of the arranged marriage. Looking at the difference in height and the expression on the tall princess's face, we know this is not a happy pairing.

Robert Hastie's production is highly watchable and creative. The performance from Michelle Terry grows in statesmanship and wisdom in the play, and the ensemble cast has not a weak player. Charlotte Cornwell's Chorus narrates with great clarity.

The postscript is that after the King of France makes Henry his heir. Henry dies at 36 some month and a half before the French king, leaving a baby Henry VI as the new king of England and France. Joan of Arc helps the dauphin to the French throne leaving England with just Calais in France after the Hundred Years' War. Henry VIII 's daughter Mary Tudor will lose Calais. Just think if Henry V had lived longer England would have had the French revolution, there would have been no Napoleonic wars and no Brexit!

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Henry V
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Hastie
Starring: Michelle Terry, Charlotte Cornwell, Ben Wiggins, David Sibley
With: Catrin Aaron, Philip Aerditti, Alex Bhat, Raphael Bushey, Phil Cheadle, Bobby Delaney, Ryan Ellsworth, Polly Frame, Berruce Khan, Syrus Lowe, Jack McMullen, Dyfrig Morris, Jessica Regan, Joy Richardson, Cat Simmons, Dwane Walcott
East 15 Patricia Allison, Matthew Biddulph, Tiffany Clare, Owen Landon, Jo McGarry, Ved Sapru, Maciej Trzpis-Miedziewski, Rebecca Turner
Design: Anna Fleischle
Movement: John Ross
Lighting Design: Joshua Carr
Sound Design: Avgoustos Psillas for Autograph
Composer: Yaron Engler
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Running time: Two hours 55 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking to 9th July 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd June 2016 performance at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London NW1 (Tube: Baker Street)

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