Review – Henry V, Noel Coward Theatre

Thursday 28 November 2013

-30539As we rush into winter, the ‘C’ word is on everyone’s lips. Yes, tis the season when The Consumptives return to the theatre.

Turn off your mobile phone, but make sure you bring your cough along and share it with your fellow audience members throughout the play.

But it wasn’t just conspicuous consumption that provided substantial distractions throughout Henry V, the last of Michael Grandage‘s 5 play season at the Noel Coward Theatre; there was also the case of Jude Law‘s trousers.

What exactly was going on there? Phil went with Helen, a serene, intelligent and polite person, not normally given to noticing, let alone bringing up such indelicate matters, but it was the talking point of the interval.

His breeches are eye-wateringly tight round calf and thigh, then billowing substantially around his dress circle. Henry Five most modestly underestimates the case. Go along and say that you didn’t notice and we will say you are myopic or possibly a liar.

When Hal woos the French princess, Kiss me Kate of Valois, she initially refuses to kiss him, instead getting down on her knees before him. The less refined in the audience (like Phil) might understand why. But then Jessie Buckley who plays her did rise to a form of fame struggling to become a Nancy on TV’s I’d Do Anything. No doubt by the time Mr Law eventually gives us his King Lear he really will take eyes out.

This is not the National Theatre so there isn’t a bomber jacket or hoodie in sight, not even a bicycle. This is Shakespeare in full traditional mode and garb*, apart from the chorus boy chorus/boy (Ashley Zhangazha, rather good) who wears a T shirt bearing what looks like an early poster design for Viva Forever, the rest of the cast might have stepped out of the Duc de Berry’s Book of Hours with a more pleasingly restrained colour palette.

We are also treated to the occasional codpiece, military full metal jackets, tights, maces, sword play and the sort old school Shakespearean declaiming that reminds you how the RSC might once have been. You half expect Larry Olivier to return (possibly as a hologram) wandering around with a coin clenched between his buttocks.

And aren’t the history plays just a bit dull? Despite the Battle of Agincourt there’s not an awful lot of dramatic tension, but for those of us not hugely up on our history it almost makes sense. The more effective and less dreary Act 2 has an touchingly poignant scene where Henry hears of the losses on both sides from the historic battle.

Christopher Oram‘s set suggests a distressed fun fair’s Wall of Death. The National would no doubt have introduced motorcycles wizzing around the set’s walls or at least Simon Russell Beale riding a shopping trolley.

There’s a few scenes performed in simple French, giving the more linguistically-inclined audience members a chance to chortle smugly. Katherine has such fun learning the parts of the body in English one almost expects her to burst into a chorus of “Dem Bones”. Her English pronunciation of ‘fingers” is hugely enjoyable (the first 3 times), though there is noticeable body part her maid seems to avoid teaching her, perhaps she thinks this will not trip lightly off Kate’s tongue.

Mr Law is virile and charismatic on stage, his courtship of Kate is rather charming. The wonderful Ron Cook injects some comedy as Pistol and, in Phil’s favourite moment of the evening, is forced to eat a raw leek.

But even at a truncated 2 and a half hours (including interval) at this early preview some of it still remains something of a plod. Phil was reminded of his first Shakespeares, Henry IV (both parts!) at the Bristol Old Vic, lots of smoke effects (perhaps exacerbating the coughing) and rushing on and off the stage amid bangs and flashes and an awful lot of wood.

The audience eschewed their coughing to cheer wildly at the end. But then, like Phil, they’d probably booked their tickets for this back in July 2012 (the furthest ahead Phil has ever booked anything) and were determined to enjoy it whatever. Or perhaps they were hugely impressed by something else?

Once more unto Jude’s breeches, dear friends.

* You must blame us. Last time we saw Mr Law do Shakespeare under Mr Grandage’s direction we complained bitterly it wasn’t traditional enough. Presumably Mr G took notes and acted appropriately, even tackling the delicate issues of tackle in a different way. Be careful what you wish for.



9 Responses to “Review – Henry V, Noel Coward Theatre”

  1. Julia E Says:

    Thought it was like a sixth form production with Jude Law as Head Boy in the lead role, deadly dull Shakespeare, disappointing end to the series of 5 plays.

  2. Boz Says:

    The history plays don’t have to be dull. The RSC production of the little-performed King John some years back was utterly riveting. Although I suppose the fresh feeling was helped by my never having read it coupled with a poor grasp of history..

  3. Ron Cook is forced to do what to a raw leek??

  4. Trevor Chenery Says:

    Need to talk to Handspring and bring on a few horses.

  5. Sal Says:

    An historical question: was the coin clenched between the buttocks of Larry Olivier a gratuity from his longtime paramour Danny Kaye (according to Lady Olivier) ?
    Contemporary question: is Phil’s alter ego Andrew doomed to henceforth only make furtive cameo appearances, as he did in the Dame Edna review, like a more grizzled and somewhat more slimline A. Hitchcock, instead of actually cowriting whinges? Posterity will want to know!

  6. Chris Voisey Says:

    Michael Grandage isn’t really all that is he? I can appreciate the clean, un-fussy productions where nothing is allowed to get in front of the text – but I can’t remember a Grandage production that was actually thrilling. His supporting casts are also dangerously am-dram at times, maybe it’s done deliberately so as not to upstage the Star in the lead role. Thank Gawd for Ron Cook and Noma Dumezweni. Regarding Sir Jude’s lals… he couldn’t stop a pig in a passage could he?

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