Theatre review: Henry V, Liverpool Playhouse

IT’S odd to think of a venerable old
theatre like the Liverpool Playhouse as a recent creation but in comparison to Shakespeare’s Globe it’s a newborn.

Even though the current replica was only completed in 1997, making it the Playhouse’s junior by more than 150 years, it retains the flavour of the original – a circular structure, no roof, gallery seating and standing room for rowdy groundlings.

How then will a Globe production play out in an indoor venue with a fully-seated audience and dimmed lighting? Very well indeed, judging by the opening night performance of Henry V, which launches its UK tour at the Playhouse this week.

The Williamson Square theatre has gone some way to recreate the atmosphere of the Globe, with musicians performing period instruments on stage before the opening act, the curtains raised up out of sight and the house lights left burning throughout the performance.

Under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director, Shakespeare’s history play is a no fuss, plain-speaking production.
Loud, bold and not afraid of its own sentiment, it took full advantage of the play’s shifts in tone – comic exchanges, rousing speeches, playful courtship and battlefield aggression – to create an emotionally well-rounded story.

The battle scenes were simply but boldly executed, with pyrotechnics, clouds of smoke and an army cutting down invisible enemies while facing the audience straight on.

Jamie Parker (The History Boys) mastered a careful balancing act between human king and warrior, drawing out the complexities of Henry V’s struggle to achieve the very ideal of an all-commanding British monarch, even crying real tears upon learning of his victory at Agincourt.

He speaks the Shakespearean verse as if it were his mothertongue – in a matter-of-fact fashion tinged with boyish honesty, so that when he finally
explodes with anger his fury is all the more powerful.

His King Henry is the ultimate motivational speaker – whether rallying troops before battle or charming a French princess to kiss him despite talking in a language she cannot understand.

It’s a performance that comes from knowing the character in great depth – and no doubt has a lot to do with Parker’s experience of playing Prince
Hal in the Globe’s production of Henry IV, parts one and two, which Dromgoole also directed.

Although the Globe presents a production that in appearance is comfortably traditional, it nevertheless feels extremely modern