Michael Grandage concludes his star-studded, five-play season at Noël Coward Theatre with a production of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. Following Simon Russell Beale in Privates on Parade, Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in Peter and Alice, Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan, and Sheridan Smith and David Walliams in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this final instalment in the season certainly has a rich ancestry. But was it worth the wait?
Yes, absolutely. Capable, charismatic and powerful, King Henry V is a refreshing departure from the hubristic and self-worthy royals we so often see portrayed on stage. Jude Law, spectacular in this role, plays the part with authority and it is a delight to find the monarch such an instantly likeable character.
A couple of powerful speeches tip us to the point of leaping to our feet and screeching “FOR ENGLAAAAAND!”, most notably the famous St Crispin’s Day speech where Henry rallies his dejected troops with the promise of great honour. But this is no straightforward patriotism. True, Law is forceful and captivating as Henry, the kind of man you’d want to lead you into battle, but his portrayal is also spattered with nervous gestures and an edge of desperation. Who is he really trying to convince here, the troops or himself?
This element of distinct humanism which Law injects into the role (after all, a King is “but a man”) means this production is not just powerful, but emotional too. The only character in modern dress, Ashley Zhangazha cuts a poignant figure as both the Chorus and the Boy – eloquently addressing the audience and taking the production from a re-telling of the past to an issue of the present.
There are laughs too. Matt Ryan is on top form as Welshman Fluellen and Law’s wooing scene with Princess Katharine (played by Jessie Buckley) is full of charm and impeccable comic timing. After the furore of the battle, it’s a welcome addition.
Designed to entice new audiences to the theatre, the Grandage season has produced quality productions, hosted star performers and offered affordable tickets (100,000 tickets on sale at £10). That’s not a trio that comes along often, and Henry V sparkles as the final jewel in the crown.
Henry V is at Noël Coward Theatre until 15 February 2014. Tickets cost £12-£59.50 (a limited number of £10 tickets are released at 10.30am on performance days). Tickets can be booked online or via the Box Office on 0844 482 5141.