Henry V, Regent’s Park Theatre, review: ‘Female king embroiled in France England clash’

Jessica Regan and Michelle Terry as Montjoy and King Henry. Picture: Johan Persson

Jessica Regan and Michelle Terry as Montjoy and King Henry. Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

Shakespeare’s ever-topical examination of national identity and international relationships feels extraordinarily pertinent right now.

Robert Hastie’s thoughtful version is anchored by the inspired cross-casting of Michelle Terry as a reflective young monarch.

This Henry is not gender specific, but there are new resonances in the play, from the mansplaining advisors and Salic Law discussion to France’s casual dismissal.

More fool them: Terry’s Henry grows into a formidable tactician.

Her excellent verse speaking makes the oratory sing, though the St Crispin’s Day speech is cleverly delivered as a personal appeal – but this is a king who feels the weight of lives lost.

She’s capable of making tough decisions, and her mounting fury at the Dauphin’s mocking gift of tennis balls is chilling, but there’s no empty jingoism.

Hastie’s immersive and increasingly expressionistic production similarly ensures that war is not glorified.

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Soldiers spill out into the audience, drummers pound a blood-pumping rhythm, and speakers make the “blast of war” blow in our ears.

Anna Fleische plunges the action into swampy puddles, and Joshua Carr’s rising floodlights silhouette ghastly tableaux.

The marking of mass graves sombrely recalls World War I battlefields, tempering victory with mourning.

The singing of the Non Nobis Domine is spine-tingling.

There are strong supporting turns from Charlotte Cornwell’s world-weary Chorus, David Sibley’s wily Canterbury, Jessica Regan’s humbled Montjoy, Philip Arditti’s swaggering Pistol, and Ben Wiggins’s capricious Princess Katherine, toying with performative feminine qualities as Terry does male in a courtship with real frisson.

Their resulting union, echoing that of their nations, is an imperfect but necessary step towards peace.

Terry’s Henry keeps an eye on both history and legacy. Can we say the same?

Henry V is running at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Rating 4/5 stars

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