Amy Wilcockson is a 19 year old English student at The University of Nottingham, who is a frequent visitor to the RSC and regularly uses the RSC Key scheme to attend productions, the most recent being Shakespeare’s Henry V.
After studying Shakespeare’s History plays last year, it seemed too good of an opportunity to miss seeing (in my opinion!) the most powerful of the Histories performed in the home of Shakespeare himself. Directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, and starring Alex Hassell in a reprise of his role as Hal/King Henry V, the production was truly a timeless and stunning experience.
The character of King Henry V has traditionally been seen as an immensely conflicted character; Shakespeare’s characterisation altering seamlessly from a murderous beast threatening the citizens of Harfleur, and committing atrocious war crimes, to the picture of an angelic prince wooing his love the next. Alex Hassell, last seen at the RSC as Biff Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, here gave an immensely powerful performance as the young king, and the famous speeches were delivered with true feeling and heart. Yet, Hassell also successfully managed to create a mysterious, brooding king, only occasionally revealing the flashes of hot-tempered Prince Hal he epitomised so well in the RSC’s previous productions of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2.
The character of the Chorus, so central to the play, was played with gusto and humour by Oliver Ford Davies. The Chorus’ opening monologue, made it explicitly clear that the world of this production was indeed played out on a stage, ‘within this wooden O’. This was made explicitly clear through the initial layout of the set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, as if halfway through a changeover or rehearsal, which added a further sense of metatheatricality to the performance. Later on in the production, the lighting and set showed their further diversity; as the thrust stage appeared at one moment tilled like earth, and the next flaming like lava with the intensity of battle and the power of Henry’s speeches.
It is well worth noting the hilarious performances of Joshua Richards (Bardolph), Christopher Middleton (Nym) and Anthony Byrne (Pistol), as the reluctant soldiers entering into war. Their low antics added a sense of light relief to the sometimes brutal reality of the war raging around them.
The contrast between the primping Dauphin, played by Robert Gilbert, and the rest of the French Court, compared to the mighty English, was also played to the maximum through the wonderfully anachronistic costumes. From punk rock warriors with crested helmets to aviator jackets and medieval armour, the costumes were a joy to behold. A range of fabrics and styles all combined through the innovative use of blue for the French, versus a deep blood red worn by the English, creating a sense of unity, yet individuality and timelessness for each character.
Henry V was indeed an immensely powerful performance, culminating in the comedic wooing of Princess Katherine to be Henry’s Queen, thus uniting the warring kingdoms. Staggering from her kiss, Hassell’s Henry is simultaneously detached yet comical, striking yet compelling in his portrayal of this mysterious king. Given five stars by The Telegraph and described as ‘the Shakespearean event of the autumn’, this play is certainly a must-see. For those of you aged 16-25, take advantage of the RSC Key – when world class theatre is available for only £5, it’d be rude to say no!