Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Must I bite?”

Marking the final entry in the Globe to Globe festival is the UK with this production of Henry V which reunites Jamie Parker with the role of Prince Hal that he played in 2010’s Henry IV Part I and II. The boy has now become king and the play covers his attempt to reconquer the English gains in France, most notably at the battle of Agincourt, and his growth into a leader who can inspire men to follow their duty to their country. Parker clearly has a close affinity to this character and it was a clever move to wait a couple of years before taking on this particular part as he is able to bring even more clear-spoken gravitas, colour and detail to this very human king.

Around him though, is a production by Dominic Dromgoole which errs very strongly towards the broadest crowd-pleasing comedy it can manage. Bríd Brennan’s beautifully versed Chorus and Olivia Ross’ poised Princess Katherine impressed as did the multi-part antics of Chris Starkie and Beruce Khan (additionally stepping in as understudy for an indisposed Matthew Flynn). But too often, the overreliance on the comic tone just fell flat for me. The Pistol, Bardolph et al antics were as bawdy as they have ever been, which ended up undermining their darker side (is the treatment of the French soldier really a subject of comedy?) and the tragedy of their fates (Boy is particularly hard done by). Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre

“The state of monarch and the state of lunacy share a frontier”

Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III is perhaps better known under its film moniker of The Madness of King George which featured a superlative performance from Nigel Hawthorne who originated the role on stage which was then later immortalised on film and criminally overlooked for an Oscar: a certain Mr Hanks winning instead for Forrest Gump. This Theatre Royal Bath production, starring David Haig as the eponymous monarch, is touring the country for the next couple of months, marking a rare outing for the play.

The year is 1788 and fresh from defeat in the American War of Independence, George III is increasingly afflicted by a mysterious ailment as he slides into mental decline. He is then subjected to the vagaries of 18th century medical practices which were only slowly making advances towards a more modern understanding of the body and mind and whilst undergoing treatment, power struggles rage between opportunistic politicians on both side and more crucially, his fiercely ambitious son and heir who has his eyes on an early assumption of power. Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Black Album, National Theatre

Based on Hanif Kureishi’s 1995 novel of the same title, The Black Album takes up residence in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National. It’s a look at a Asian student’s experience of going to university in London in a pre-9/11 world, specifically around the time of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the beginnings of the radicalisation of some extreme groups. Originally from Kent, Shahid is torn between the fun student life, complete with affairs with lecturers, that he discovers there and the pressures of his Muslim friends who want him to retreat from the excesses of Western living.

The story has taken on a much more powerful resonance in this post 9/11 world and as such, has the potential to be an incisive examination of British Muslim identity and the pressures it faced at a time of crucial change. And whilst the play does deal with some of these issues, it never really tackles them head on and it sometimes felt like there was a little lack of conviction about the proceedings. There’s never a real sense of just how ominous the direction that the extremists are heading in is and whilst I can’t say that I did not enjoy the play, I just feel like it is a bit of a missed opportunity. Continue reading “Review: The Black Album, National Theatre”