Theatre Trip: Henry V
The GCSE English Literature students were recently given the opportunity to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry V.
The production began with the Chorus which was effectively played by Oliver Ford Davis. The chorus, a device originated from the Ancient Greeks, was well adapted in the performance to enhance and encourage the audience to use their imaginations to overcome the staging limitations. It was very clear that he stood outside the plot, as he was wearing modern dress, making it obvious that he was simply there to fill the audience in with what is happening.
Henry V was played magnificently by Alex Hassel, who also formerly played Prince Hal in a previous production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. This dramatized the growth of King Henry V as it contrasted to his behaviour as an idle drunkard prior to his father’s death in the earlier play. He was now portrayed as a pious, just and noble king. However to show this newly-acquired authority, Henry V executes three corrupt noblemen despite them begging for mercy: this allowed his ruthless and manipulative side to surface. When he dresses as a regular soldier, it not only shows his interest in his reputation, but it also shows Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony. His love interest with Katherine (daughter of the king of France) let a softer side of the king shine through.
Comedy was incorporated in the play through the low-life characters from the taverns, Bardolph and Pistol; they were also formally friends with Prince Hal. They not only offered light relief, but also dramatized the change and growth of Henry as a person. Another incident where light relief was prominent was when Katherine was attempting to learn English from her friend, Alice, when her mother tongue was clearly French. This lightened the play and contrasted with the more severe themes such as war and kingship.
The union at the end of the play links King Henry V and Katherine, and also parallels to the linking of England and France. Overall, it was a spectacularly directed performance by Gregory Doran and highly recommended for all literature and drama lovers!