Theatre review: Henry V at the Noel Coward Theatre
Clarity, pace, and great performances are what you expect from Michael Grandage’s productions and this star vehicle for Jude Law is no exception.
Though lacking in wow-factor innovation or contemporary topicality, it compensates in lucidity and precision – and Law’s central performance as a king with the charisma and ruthlessness required for victory is both accomplished and nuanced.
The final production of Grandage’s stellar West End residency offers a judiciously-trimmed traditional dress version of Shakespeare’s patriotic play about the brutality of war and the burdens of leadership.
Christopher Oram’s heavy-planked, versatile whitewashed stockade suggests the ‘wooden O’ of the prologue, which is expressively delivered by Ashley Zhangazha’s lone chorus, a framing figure garbed in union jack t-shirt whose comments undercut and introduce ambivalence.
He doubles as the boy to Ron Cook’s marvellously cynical Pistol and low-life soldiers in a production that ably handles its comic characters – Matt Ryan’s loquacious leek-toting Welsh nationalist Fluellen and Noma Dumezweni’s touching Mistress Quickly are both memorable.
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This is the third time Law and Grandage have worked together and from Hamlet to Anna Christie the actor’s director has wrung increasingly mature performances from him.
Cutting a trim, graceful but sinewy figure in close-fitting doublet and trousers, he convincingly rages against the Dauphin’s slight, is spine-tinglingly stirring when leading his army ‘into the breach’ or exhorting them to victory on St Crispin’s day – and both fierce and pitiless when threatening to skewer the babies of Harfleur or ordering the killing of French prisoners.
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Law brings a poignant intensity to the eve of battle “ceremony” speech in which he broods on the spiritual unease of the leader with so many lives in his hands, and is both endearing and humorous when wooing Jessie Buckley’s charming French princess.
And if it lacks the electrifying relevance of Nick Hytner’s ‘Blair goes to war’ Henry V of 2003, or feels occasionally underwhelming, you can’t argue with the classy professionalism of the production.
Until February 15.