Henry V at The Globe Theatre
Review by Tim Baker
“Cry God for Harry, England, and St George!” These immortal, rousing words are bellowed by the entire gathering of spectators at the Globe Theatre, at the moment when the latest performance of Henry V becomes truly invigorating theatre.
The Globe creates an atmosphere to rival any contemporary theatre-going experience. Surrounded by historic authenticity and packed benches that create a spectacular sight as they stretch out towards the evening sky, it feels powerfully genuine. Standing a few feet from the stage, as a groundling, it is impossible not to become personally involved in the drama.
Setting aside, and the setting itself is worth the visit, Henry V makes for engaging Shakespearian theatre. Henry V himself (Jaime Parker) brings the stage to life at the walls of Harfleur. Up to this point he is a little underwhelming in the political discussion, but once the irresistible words – “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” have left his lips, he has the audience at his mercy. This famous speech is captured so movingly that those gathered cannot help but join with this most famous of rallying cries – as we cry “God for Harry!”
Shakespeare’s script is focused on the faith of Henry and his men. This is the tale of a man who put his trust in God and refused to boast in his victories because he believed them to be divinely inspired. The image of God as “choosing sides” in warfare is, of course, highly problematic. If, however, we are able to see the Battle of Agincourt as Shakespeare would have us see it – namely, the victory of a small troop of hopelessly outnumbered, faithful men against arrogance and complacency – we can begin to see the message here.
This performance does not shy away from portraying the bloody, shocking nature of battle, yet it also captures something of an underlying message. Jamie Parker’s rendition of the “St Crispin’s Day” speech at Agincourt sends shivers down the spine. He looks to the inspiration of two martyred saints, Crispin and Crispinian, to uplift his troops, reflecting the faith behind the words they reportedly said under trial – “Thy threats do not terrify us, for Christ is our life, and death is our gain”. Often, this echo of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a long way from our experience. For Henry’s bloodstained and battle-scarred men, it is shockingly close to home.
Parker is also brilliant the final scene with Olivia Ross’s Lady Katherine – proving he is capable of more than war-acting. Produced by Dominic Dromgoole, this production offers something for students of the script and those new to the play. Brendan O’Hea as Llewellyn and Sam Cox as Pistol add well-executed comedy, epitomised by the latter’s valiant attempt to eat a leek on stage!
Henry V, The Globe Theatre,
Running until 26th Aug
Tickets from £5 groundlings and £15 seating
3 hours 10 minutes, including interval
Tim Baker is an intern with the Methodist Recorder