It's all but impossible for me to put into words the magic that the RSC wove in the Courtyard Theatre last Saturday night with their repertory production of Henry Vth. They're performing all of Shakespeare's history plays in rep at present to rave reviews from people far better qualified than me.
For anyone unfamiliar with the play, Henry Vth was the chappie who decided to invade France under slightly spurious evidence that he should be king there as well. After a dreadful siege at Harfleur, victory was claimed by the English. The invasion climaxes later at the battle of Agincourt in which the English forces gain victory with pifflingly few losses compared to over 10,000 French casualties. Henry then marries the French king's daughter (which he could have done in the first act, I might add) and they all live happily ever after. I'm telling the very short version here.
The current production is spellbinding: it runs to over three hours, but seems so much shorter as the time flies by in a confusion of spectacle, horror and some very funny comic turns. The French court is portrayed almost entirely by actors performing on trapezes (it works, don't knock it); the English are all dully clad in greys and blacks; the battle scenes are loud, scary and very effective. The final act is played on a second dais built entirely of coffins atop the actual stage; a chilling and blunt reminder throughout the diplomatic and romantic talk of the finale that the royal characters are doing this on the backs of the slaughtered. (Now, why would I like that symbolism?)
The staging using multiple trapdoors, ladders, trapezes and a thrust stage with numerous entrance and exit points through the audience is of the highest order - these guys have a very very good technical crew.
I do realise that this "review" is not a lot more than inane burbling and starstruck gushing. Just go and see it for yourselves. It's playing Stratford a few more times before transferring to London. I can't recommend it highly enough.
To see the famed speech "Once more unto the breech...God for Harry, England and St George!" as performed in the current production that we saw, follow this link to video on the RSC's website:http://www.rsc.org.uk/explore/workspace/3037_3117.htm
Once you're there it's worth clicking to watch Act 4 Scene 4 with "Pistol" taking a French prisoner as well, a strangely funny episode...