Henry V at Barbican, theatre review: The RSC’s production lacks emotion but it's riotously funny

Simon Thomson
Alex Hassell as Henry V in this humerous interpretationg of the play

Barbican | ★★★★

The RSC’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry V is curiously lacking in drama, but more than compensates with a brilliant injection of humour.

Serious passages often lack emotional clout, but traditionally straight characters are successfully played for laughs. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, becomes an ecclesiastical Sir Humphrey and the Dauphin is a petulant, pageboy-haired toddler. The comic characters, meanwhile, achieve riotous perfection, allowing a sense of levity to permeate almost the entire play. This tonal shift heightens the senseless brutality of the conflict at Agincourt; and horror is probably a better response than pride.

The costumes are a peculiar mix of period and stylised, with Exeter looking like Bomber Harris, Pistol like a German metaller, and the King of France like the Lady Galadriel. The basic set is re-cycled from David Tennant’s Richard II and fits like a hand-me-down stretched out by an older sibling,

Henry is the hole at the centre of the play; a reedy voiced, pious, somewhat manlier Jacob Rees-Mogg. But he is redeemed in the wooing scene, where Alex Hassell reveals the King to be an endearingly awkward English romantic, of the Richard Curtis school.

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