Wednesday, 11 July 2012

HENRY V

Directed by Ed Hall and performed by Propeller

I have seen this production twice within a week.  I enjoyed it more on second viewing, though I have no idea why.

A friend thought the production 'over-directed' and it is true that there is always a lot of business, what with stomping about, songs (from a Te Deum to London Calling by way of a Chanson d'amour), dry ice, laughing, fighting, clambering and a surfeit of farcical French.  The other way of putting this is that it bristles with energy.

OK, I do have an idea why I enjoyed it better second time around.  I was infuriated by the perverse decision to cut the death of Falstaff, surely one of the most moving speeches in dramatic literature - the dying old man babbles of green fields.  This is such an odd play - it has, to all intents and purposes, only one character, in whom absolutely nothing changes - but it is thematically rich.  One of these themes is mortality and another is the arbitrary nature of degree.  Falstaff's death is a foreshadowing of all the other deaths that are to come. The Hostess's description uses a kind of high, melancholic bawdy; she elicits an essential sympathy which we can then use to understand the reality of each following death.  So to leave it out is, in my view, an act of treachery to the play, and robs it of one of its most strict demands on our imaginations.

So the second time I went I was prepared for the disappointment,not angry.

The second problem with the production is, again, a Boars Head difficulty.  Henry should have a little bit of rock and roll in him.  It was very hard to imagine Dugald rollicking with Falstaff.  And rock and roll also requires at least a sprinkling of the charismatic.  Dugald - good at comedy, and he speaks the verse well and clearly - is not blessed with charisma.  Having said that, I must report that a lady friend told me that the word from the Ladies Loo was that Dug was "hot", so maybe I speak only for myself.

This would seem to be a generally critical review, but actually the show is enjoyable.  Last night the audience stood to a man at the end. There are few longeurs, and the difficult and potentially tedious expositionary speeches at the front of the play were very well done, as was the fighting, and Dug did the "ceremony' monologue well.  Astounding how Shakespeare gets from there to "we happy few".  He's really very good.

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