Globe I was optimistic that Propeller would rehabilitate the play for me. Paired with their take on The Winter's Tale, Ed Hall's all-male company tackle one of Shakespeare's most testosterone-fueled plays (its whole story is essentially the progress of one military campaign) and, as you'd expect, don't hold back. Michael Pavelka's design gives us a modern-dress production with much of the cast remaining onstage throughout, a laddish regiment in desert camouflage gear delivering the Chorus' speeches. In keeping with the play's overt theatricality that asks us to fill in the blanks with our imaginations, most of the costume changes simply involve the actors pulling on additional clothing over their combat gear.
Hall's production makes this very much the story of a whole army, not just the one man at its head. Not that Dugald Bruce-Lockhart doesn't step up to the plate in the title character's key moments, but his king is more of a thinker and manipulator than a bombastic rabble-rouser. His fondness for shaping the facts to fit what he wants is evident from the opening scene: The bishops' convincing him of his right to France's crown is less about them using their influence for their own purposes, more overtly about Henry using them to justify a campaign he's already set his mind on. Hall brings a lot of deaths that usually happen offstage, like the executions of the conspirators and Bardolph, onstage, never shying away from how ruthless a king Henry can be. Of course Propeller are often described (sometimes in an accusatory way) as having a very laddish approach and this production certainly doesn't skimp on the Kensington Gore; but the violence is presented in a variety of interesting ways, never gleefully.
are all a lot younger than I'm used to seeing the roles played, and interesting for it. (Though for the most part the actors' roles are quite evenly spread out over the two plays, Thorburn is a bit underused in both; maybe he's largely relegated to just looking attractive in the background because he's so good at it. I mean just look at him, Dominic Thorburn is clearly more attractive than people who are not Dominic Thorburn.)
Once again I was introducing a newcomer to Propeller, in fact Christopher didn't even know they were an all-male company going in: He did a double-take when I spotted Dominic Tighe, who was in last year's ensemble, in tonight' audience, and told him I'd seen him play Queen Elizabeth in last year's Richard III. But from knowing nothing about them he's now another enthusiastic convert, particularly noticing how well integrated the music was into the play, something he says he often finds awkwardly done in Shakespeare. I suppose it's inevitable that at some point Propeller will disappoint me, but they've not done it yet - bring on 2013 and the Shrew/Twelfth Night combo.
Henry V by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 21st of July at Hampstead Theatre (returns only) then continuing on tour to Galway.
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes including interval. (As they do in one of their shows every year, some of the company perform songs in the bar during the interval of Henry V, collecting money for charity.)