It was a delight for me to be able to attend the Barbican Theatre in London on Saturday evening
(28 Nov) to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest stage production of HENRY V.
Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, it’s one of my favourites. Although there are films – the Classic of the Classic, Olivier’s; Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 – there is nothing quite like being at the theatre to get a real feel for the play in the way Shakespeare originally intended it – or as close as can be in our modern age.
At the outset, the apology through the Chorus, for trying to set such a real-life huge chunk of history onto a mere stage – “can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France” – and asking us to use our imaginations:
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass:
sets the standard for this wonderful production.
The Chorus is brilliantly spoken by Oliver Ford Davies. Alex Hassell makes a fine King – the young irresponsible Hal of the Henry IV plays has finally grown up, and becomes one of England’s greatest Kings, winning the Battle of Agincourt of 600 years ago this year against what were seemingly impossible French odds.
It was exciting, and a privilege to be able to wonder again at the sheer skill, breadth and depth of Shakespeare’s writing. And, to appreciate with great admiration the way in which fine actors still, some 400 years after the play was born, can bring to life one of the key moments in great England’s history.
Oh – and here’s a little ‘Aside’. We all know Sherlock Holmes’s phrase to Watson, “The Game is Afoot!” Well guess what, it’s not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s. It’s – yes, you’re right – Shakespeare. Henry IV, and (slightly varied)
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
What a play!