Review: Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

There’s way too much going on in this production of Henry V at the Donmar Warehouse, despite Kit Harington’s return to the stage

“Every subject’s soul is his own”

There’s a lot of good ideas in Max Webster’s production of Henry V for the Donmar Warehouse. Too many in fact, as it frequently feels like all of them have been thrown at the back wall in order to see what sticks. And given the intimacy of the stage and the efficacy of Shakespeare’s words, the end result is often overstuffed and overwhelming. 

The idea of playing scenes between French characters in French makes sense on paper and certainly reinforces Webster’s thesis about entrenched ideas about national identity. But somehow it doesn’t quite fly on stage, surtitles distracting from what should be a comic scene in the second act, and at the point where Mandarin is introduced you can’t help but be a little puzzled.

So too the (over)use of music, which weighs heavily over so many scenes. The live choral singing is lovely and the soundtrack is occasionally witty but their ubiquity speaks to an almost cinematic desire to underscore key moments whilst actually drowning them out. There’s always so much going on here that you long for a respite from the deluge of theatricality, Fly Davis’ design just as guilty of trying to do a whole lot.

The production’s calling card has been the return of Kit Harington to the London stage and he certainly feels at home in the modern dress environment here, as much calculating businessman as inspirational ruler. And in a much more gender balanced company than usual for this play, there’s good work from Kate Duchêne, Melissa Johns and Anoushka Lucas. But there’s just that sense of overload throughout that has a really numbing and deletorious effect.

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Helen Murray
Henry V is booking at the Donmar Warehouse until 9th April

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