Henry V at the Noel Coward
Henry V concludes Michael Grandage’s star-studded five-play season at the Noel Coward Theatre, in which 100,000 tickets were made available at £10 with the aim of drawing a new audience to the theatre. The project was a success, with a reported 30% of attendees being first-time bookers.
Christopher Oram’s staging is minimal but imposing, with thick weathered wooden beams panelling the stage in a semi circle, placing the audience in the “wooden O” of Shakespeare’s Globe. Sections of wall that seamlessly move in and out of place create beautiful backlit entry and exit points which are used with sparing versatility.
As the production strives for accessibility through the availability of cheaper tickets, Jude Law in the title role follows suit, bringing Shakespeare’s words alive with clarity through his own connection with the role. Law’s performance is heartfelt and intelligent throughout as he delivers his lines with a natural, flowing ease and under Grandage’s careful direction, he delivers a multi-faceted portrayal of the pious Henry, building on the dark ruthlessness of a wartime monarch.
While exploring the king’s violence, Law also punctuates his performance with apt charm and wit in scenes such as the final act wooing of Princess Katherine in which he springs apart from the princess, adjusts his crown and boyishly delivers the line “Here comes your father” to the laughter of the audience. More of the play’s periodic comedy is provided in the character of Fluellen, whose declarations of Welsh pride, cringingly inappropriate in the aftermath of war, are brought to life through the hilarious comic timing of Matt Ryan.
While the first half of Henry V plays out with all the right components in place in terms of skilled acting and careful staging, it is not until after the interval that this production really makes its impression. The second half opens onto Act 4, Scene 1 in which King Henry, undercover as Harry le Roy, enters the camp to gauge the mood of his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt. The staging is immediately powerful, with two open fires burning onstage which light sleeping soldiers and the exchange between undercover king and countryman. The smell of wood fire drifts into the audience atmospherically alongside the quiet sounds of a harmonica playing, underpinning the onstage clash in perspective as two soldiers outline their doubts about the necessity of war’s bloodshed, while the king’s focus is firmly on glory and loyalty.
The cast received a standing ovation, and the audience filed out to the sound of excited chatter, a job well done.
Henry V is on at the Noel Coward Theatre until 15th February 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Henry V here: