Once More Unto The Breach For Kit Harington In Henry V

Henry V, Donmar Warehouse ★★★☆☆

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 25 months ago
Once More Unto The Breach For Kit Harington In Henry V Henry V, Donmar Warehouse 3
Photo: Helen Murray

For Kit Harington, it is "once more unto the breach" as he returns to the Donmar Warehouse, this time in the title role of a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Henry V.

We meet Henry as a partying prince of England, belting out Sweet Caroline with his BFF Falstaff in a disco while enjoying some nose candy. His father passes away and, on ascending to the throne, he is persuaded to invade France. The war goes well until Henry’s army arrives at Agincourt and, hugely outnumbered, the young king is forced to choose between ploughing on or heading home.

Photo: Helen Murray

At the helm is the acclaimed Max Webster. Those who have seen his Life Of Pi won’t be disappointed by the clever visual FX and stage design, and the eye-catching projections. This isn’t the Bard’s sharpest or wittiest work but Webster brings out the humour where possible amid what becomes an increasingly grim, violent and rambling story.

Visuals aside, Webster makes some brave choices to cover for a script which often drags. The French court and soldiers speak to each other in French (with translations presented off-stage). Bardolph’s hanging is brutally presented front and centre, even if the reason behind it is not made very clear. All actors except Harington play multiple roles which can lead to some confusion over who is who.

Photo: Helen Murray

As the marquee name, Harington lives up to his billing with an exhilarating and intelligent performance. This plum role has recently been taken on by Tom Hiddleston and Timothée Chalamet but the Game of Thrones actor brings something extra.

As someone suddenly thrown into a political and military leadership position, beset by betrayal and facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Henry is similar to GoT's Jon Snow and Harington builds on his experience playing the latter while also mining the moral marrow of the man beneath the crown.

Photo: Helen Murray

The allusions between the current war in Ukraine and this play are unavoidable and uncomfortable: the English army is presented as a conquering force launching an unprovoked invasion of a neighbouring country on a tenuous pretext and led by someone prepared to commit war atrocities. Some may feel that, at best, this play has come at an awkward time and, at worst, it would be poor taste to continue. This is not to take away from a powerhouse central performance but certainly food for thought.

Henry V, Donmar Warehouse. Tickets £10-£50, until 9 April 2022. Also showing at cinemas as part of NT Live.

Last Updated 03 March 2022