Review: Henry V. Royal and Derngate. Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

There’s nothing that quite sums up English theatre better than Shakespeare, and there’s no denial it’s difficult to keep an audience captivated with a play that’s been performed for over 400 years. The Royal and Derngate’s Henry V bring their own originality to the story that would impress even Shakespeare himself. Directed by Holly Race Roughan, the cast expertly execute a timeless piece and truly make it their own.

The story follows hot-headed Prince Harry taking over the throne of England from his departed father, vowing to conquer France after Prince Louis insults him. Along with a gang of four chaotic criminals, Harry quickly becomes corrupt with power, laughing maniacally at the deaths he’s caused. His attempt to marry the French king’s daughter, Princess Katherine, ignites a powerful performance by Joséphine Callies. Whilst the speech is majorly in French, a common grasp of the language isn’t needed to understand her desperation and intense emotion in her voice. Eleanor Henderson interacts beautifully as her mother, allowing both actresses to showcase their talent in a sense that will haunt audiences for years to come.

However, I could not review this play without noting the spectacular performance from Georgia Frost, who takes on three characters, making them all unique and memorable, most notably, of course, her performance as Nym. Even when she doesn’t speak, she naturally claims the stage as her own, whether it be by her powerful singing or fighting spirit.

The play starts with the characters sitting on chairs in front of a curtain, which slightly mimics a GCSE drama performance. Although after Act 2, when the drama starts to pick up, the curtain is swept away to reveal an artistically well-done castle, which proves to be a simplistic yet necessary addition to every scene that follows. Its unique feature is really the cherry on top, as the actors can climb over it. There is a great deal of effort put into the lighting, while most of the time it is quite subtle, there is a powerful sequence towards the end, and vivid colour to represent fire.

Possibly the most well-done piece of this performance was the fighting and intimacy choreography, pulled off masterfully by Kate Waters (fight director) and Yarit Dor (intimacy director). They do a fantastic job displaying the relationships between characters, whether it be hatred or friendship. Whenever I find myself confused on the storyline, these scenes would be explanation enough, as they ground the audience back into the narrative. The actors do an equally good task of performing it, and these interactions certainly complete the excellent performances.  Many of the roles are doubled and trebled up and Oliver Johnston’s titular role of Henry V is an exciting individualistic approach and the key speeches thrill this modern day audience with Johnston’s unique theatrical approach and styling.

Overall, I would say that this play is definitely better for people who are fans of, or have a little bit of a grasp of Shakespeare’s work as the language is very authentic to his time period. (Although, without spoiling the ending too much, there is a humourous final scene for the modern-day audience to enjoy.) Be prepared for some laughs, some tears, and the occasional jump scare to keep you on your toes. In conclusion, the cast and crew managed to take on the difficult challenge of making an already beloved play their own, and they really did make something worth watching.

Henry V is a production by Shakespeare’s Globe and Headlong, with Leeds Playhouse and Royal & Derngate, Northampton, directed by Headlong’s Artistic Director Holly Race Roughan

Reviewer: Grace Etherington


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