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Henry V @ Shakespeare's Globe

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
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Some may believe that Shakespeare is difficult, elitist or unapproachable yet his plays continue to be performed. Henry V was first presented at the newly built Globe theatre on Bankside in 1599, and is currently enjoying another run at the replica of that Elizabethan playhouse.

Henry V
Henry V (Pictures Courtesy of Shakespeare's Globe Website)

We can only imagine what it must have been like for sixteenth century playgoers to have seen this play; at least they didn't have to contend with helicopters circling overhead and drowning out the voices of the actors. Henry V has been filmed and used to rally the troops to war (by Laurence Olivier during World War II) and to show the horrors of combat (by Kenneth Branagh in response to the Falklands war). The current production, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, and starring Jamie Parker as the king, sets out to entertain the audience and does not dwell too heavily on the blood and guts side of combat. Every syllable of humour and laughter is drawn out of the script and the play moves at such a pace that we don't get a chance to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of war.

The characters at the Boar's Head Tavern (where the young king used to enjoy himself in his princely days) are so eager to enjoy themselves that they recover from Falstaff's offstage death and revert to comedy in record time. Captain Jamy (the Scottish soldier) speaks in such a thick Glaswegian accent that we have to laugh at our own attempts to understand him, and the English lesson given to the French Princess Katherine by her maid, Alice, matches the attempts of the modern English in France trying to make themselves understood.

Of course the play has its serious moments, but this production doesn't dwell on them. There's a world economic crisis going on, and we're having the worst summer for 100 years, so why not revert to some lavatorial humour? This is exactly how the play opens, when the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely take turns using a portable privy, whilst debating the case for going to war in France. And of course the production ends on a jig, just as it would have done more than 400 years ago, so you clap along and watch the actors enjoying themselves and leave the playhouse with a smile on your face.

I love Shakespeare in all his shapes and forms, and I promise you that you'll thoroughly enjoy this production even if you think that the man from Stratford isn't for you. If you're unfamiliar with Shakespeare's Globe, spend 1 to hire a cushion as the benches are rather hard and unforgiving. If it's raining you'll only get wet if you stand in the yard; the bench seats are covered.

Jamie Parker as Henry V
Jamie Parker as Henry V (Picture Courtesy of Shakespeare's Globe Website)
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Why? To watch one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and try to imagine what it would have been like in 1599
When: Running until 26 August. Consult the website for further information.
Where: Shakespeare's Globe on Bankside
Cost: 5 to stand in the Yard and more to sit on a bench.
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