This is a powerful and thought-provoking production is electrifying to watch from start to finish.
When putting together their programme of plays for this season together, it is doubtful if the Donmar Warehouse realised just how important and timely putting this play on would be. But very sadly it is and I did find myself feeling quite thoughtful and emotional in place in watching this production, knowing what we all do about the world at large at the moment.
Max Webster’s pacy production is electrifying from start to finish, feeling as though it is very much as psychological dissection of Henry V’s qualities as a leader and how he becomes increasingly distant with the men that he leads into war and makes increasingly brutal decisions including the execution of Lord Scroop and the brutal image of him impassively watching the hanging of Bardolph (which while completely shocking to watch has been imaginatively staged for great impact) for example. By focusing on the way that Henry V starts off as a party-loving prince to a brutal leader who shows no mercy (highlighted by an extremely chilling execution of several prisoners) – it is a subtle production that gives the audience plenty to think about.
There are many clever aspects to this production and the way in which the play has been staged – in particular, the way in which the battle scenes are brought to life – the movements are so precise thanks to the involvement of former Royal Marines Commando Tom Leigh as Military consultant. The movements and the way the fights that have been choreographed by Kate Waters makes it feel chillingly realistic and that the audience feels as intimately involved with the action as the characters themselves. Meanwhile, Lee Curran’s lighting design is wonderfully striking the way in which the coolness of it during the attempts of diplomacy and moments of reflection to the power and drama during the more intense battle scenes just captures the atmosphere of each scene perfectly. This is all enhanced further with the operatic quality of the music that weaves its way throughout the production – heightening the sense of emotion and power of what is unfolding in front of us.
While you could say that the play itself glorifies war with its passionate speeches on both sides, with this production there is certainly a different slant on it that leaves you feeling that no one truly wins in war even when the battle is won or over. The only person who seems truly elated is Henry V himself – even when he discovers just how many deaths the war has caused there is a stillness in the auditorium that really gets the audience reflecting and thinking about the true cost of war. It is a brilliant take on war that is sadly all too relevant at the moment. The way in which boots and helmets are laid out after the battle is won is surprisingly heartbreaking. What I wasn’t expecting however, was so much of the speeches to be spoken in French – which is impressive and authentic – but at the same time (as my French is not up to scratch) it did mean I was spending a lot of time reading the surtitles as opposed to getting a real feel for some of the performances.
This production is filled with dynamic performances – not least Kit Harington as Henry V, delivering a subtle but psychologically complex performance that really gets to the heart of the character and the change in his personality as the story unfolds. Every speech he delivers is powerful – he gives each one a deep meaning that makes for compelling to watch that there were many moments in which I leant forward to feel even closer to this character and wanting to understand him better. To watch him transform from the boyish prince who enjoys partying to a cold and calculating leader is an experience indeed. But he is surrounded by an abundance of talent including Olivier Huband as The Dauphin, Danny Kirrane as Pistol and Steven Meo as Llewellyn – all of whom give memorable performances.
If you can get a ticket to see this then I recommend that you do – this is a relevant and timely production that will stay with you long after it has finished.
By Emma Clarendon
Henry V continues to play at the Donmar Warehouse until the 9th April.