Two years ago Shakespeare's Globe delivered a cracking production of Henry IV, with Jamie Parker playing the young Hal opposite Roger Allam's Olivier-winning Falstaff. Now Parker moves on to play Henry V in outstanding style on the same stage. Director Dominic Dromgoole delivers a fairly traditional reading of the play which packs a devastating dramatic punch as it moves towards a climax.
Parker begins the play in subdued fashion, sitting with his back to the audience as the clerics outline his claim to the French throne; he's still only a few steps from being Prince Hal, a young man who still has some way to go to discover what it's really like to be king. We see him develop psychologically through the violence of war and the brutal decisions he has to make, laying bare his humanity along the way. Parker's delivery of the play's most heroic moments -- 'Once more into the breach' and 'We few, we happy few' is all the more effective because he gives the impression of a king who is partly making it up as he goes along. We sense that the whole English expedition could well end in ignominy. His other great achievement is to change tone for the wooing scene with the French king's daughter, turning himself into an uncertain, clumsy lover.
Not all the casting is equally strong, but I liked Brid Brennan as the chorus, integrated into the action at the start in the role of a female attendant cleaning up after important men have sat in state on her lavatory. Dromgoole cleverly points up the Chorus's naive approach to military heroism by showing the audience what is really going on among the lower ranks at the same time. Another strong actor in a supporting part is Brendan O'Hea as Fluellen, a man blissfully unaware of the fact that his real handicap in life is not being Welsh but the fact that he just can't stop talking. I liked Olivia Ross in the double roles of the Boy (nastily murdered by the perfidious French at Agincourt) and Princess Katherine. Sam Cox explores a range of subtle -- perhaps too subtle -- behaviour patterns to make Pistol much more than the usual braggart, while Kurt Egyiawan is impressive as Louis the Dauphin.
This is a vigorous production which can only get better. Though it's been touring since mid-April, I sense that it needs a bit more time on the Globe stage to develop the relationship with the audience that marked out Allam's Falstaff two years ago and which is the key to success on such a big and exposed open air stage.