Henry IV @Barbican, 25/11/2015

The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently staging three of Shakespeare’s historic plays at the Barbican Theatre under the King And Country series. Henry V is part of that serious in light of the 600th anniversary of the Battle Of Agincourt.

henry v

It’s the year 1415 and Henry IV is dead, Henry V must leave his youth behind and rally the troops in hopes to to reunite his country and lay claim to parts of France. The Battle of Agincourt marks Henry V’s most important battle of Hundred Years’ War. Before the battle victory looks uncertain and Henry V rallies what little he has left of his troops with the famous St Crispan’s Day speech: “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

Once the battle is won and negotiations begin with the French King, Henry V tries to woo the King’s daughter Katherine. The wooing is typical for Shakespeare’s plays – childish, messy but endearing nonetheless. And the bridges of language are a hard one to cross, as the princess speaks little English  and Henry V speaks little to no French. But his courtship pays off and the French King gladly agrees to let Henry marry Katherine.

Shakespeare’s play was originally published in 1600 and believed to have been written in 1599. The play focuses on the events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt. It is the final part of the tetralogy, preceded by Richard II, Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II.

Alex Hassell, previously seen in the role of Henry IV Parts I and II, plays King Henry V. The stage is minimal, yet for it being a Shakespearean play, it is more than enough to comprehend the change of scenery and conveying of the battle scenes. The main characters however, are not strong enough to impact as much as they should. On the contrary, minor characters such as princess Katherine, or soldiers Pistol, Nym and Bardolph stick out far more. Seeing a Shakespeare play staged with the text not changed to modern English is definitely impressive, it is also a feast for the ears.

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