March 3, 2008, by Peter Kirwan

Henry V (RSC) @ The Courtyard Theatre: Highlights

It’s now Monday morning and I’ve seen all eight. I’m knackered, but happy- it’s been a very good week! So now catching up on some blogging…..

Henry V is an excellent centrepiece when seeing the productions in chronological order. It’s an enormous production that embraces the epic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are my highlights:

  • Geoffrey Streatfeild took a well-deserved solo bow after an excellent performance. He’s really grown on me as an actor over the last two years, and his Henry was striking. Key moments included his listing of the terrors that he would visit on the French, with his own face falling in horror at the words coming out of his mouth. His angry sobbing as he cradled Wela Frasier’s dead Boy was moving, and his anger when confronting the conspirators was tinged with sadness at their betrayal. Yet his manicness in the more upbeat scenes, particularly running around the stage almost madly in the wooing, contrasted nicely.
  • Lots of improvements from the first time round. The cage that once descended in the opening scene had been cut, and the bringing on of coffins at the end of Act 4 was now done by the French, dragging on their bodies while the English sang a hymn. It made sense and meant the scene change was far less clumsy.
  • Alexia Healy brought an element of sexual awareness to Katherine, mischievously almost asking how to say ‘breasts’ in English when being tutored, and the wooing scene with Henry was very sexy. The interplay between Kate and Alice (Hannah Barrie) was also funny, Kate barking at Alice’s constant corrections and Alice glancing over Henry’s shoulder as he wooed her mistress.
  • Keith Talbot, despite this being his play off, cameoed as Talbot during the Agincourt scene. Presumably he had little better to do, but it was a very nice link to 1 Henry VI. Henry does mention Talbot in his speeches, and to see him in the war gave some background to the stories of his heroics in the next play. It also made Bartlett the only actor to appear in all eight plays – congratulations!
  • Fluellen, played with Jonathan Slinger’s usual gusto, had a particularly interesting function. The devastation after the murder of the boys was palpable, the nobles lying around the stage in various forms of grief, and victory seemed hollow. It was here that Fluellen began his nationalistic comment on the Welsh, a rude note in the middle of such solemnity, but his infectious rambling caused the bloodstained nobles to finally laugh. Fluellen provided relief not only for the audience but for the English army, providing a way for the production to move from the pathos of Henry cradling the Boy to the acceptance of victory without belittling either. Henry’s own jokes had a similar effect, particularly in keeping his brothers (Chris McGill and Luke Neal) in good spirits.
  • Geoffrey Freshwater gave a very impressive speech as the Archbishop, reeling off name after name, event after event. Last time he made a massive fluff of the lines; this time, it became awe-inspiring and very funny. He received an impromptu round of applause once he finished!
  • I was also struck by Nick Asbury as Pistol in this performance, who swaggered with his usual panache but also brought a more moving quality to the role, a glimpse into the man behind the mannerisms. Trying to persuade Fluellen to intervene on Bardolph’s behalf, he was devastated at the lack of support, and there were tears in his eyes after the funny but violent leek-eating scene as he quietly told us of Mistress Quickly’s death.
  • The French were all good. Chuk Iwuji made a great impact as Montjoy, Antony Bunsee (now back on his trapeze: when I last saw the production, he was always ground-based) brought a gravitas to the French airiness (particularly funny as he involuntarily joined in the horse jokes and groaned “Oh God”) and John Mackay’s Dauphin was a delight, stamping petulantly as he was kept back from the front line.
  • Plenty of other good performances too. Rob Carroll as MacMorris, Keith Dunphy as Nym, Sandy Neilson as the King of France and Forbes Masson as an excellent Chorus all stood out in a production that really showed off the ensemble’s strengths.

The aesthetic of this central production was rivetting, particularly in Boyd’s concept of the French hanging from the rafters while the English dug pits, and the fight scene beginning with the English emerging upwards towards the French spun the whole theatre on its head. What was last year a good production has really become great.

Posted in Theatre review