The Revenger's Tragedy are playing it in repertory. With the other two productions I've seen this year going by and large for the sympathetic portrayal of the king, Henry Filloux-Bennett's goes the other way, turning the play into an allegory for the second Iraq war - a leader who believes he's doing god's work, going into war on dubious evidence. This is far from a new approach - Adrian Lester was a Blairite Henry back in 2003. The explanation given for revisiting the conceit is that we now have a better knowledge of what went on behind the scenes. Still, a Labour-bashing production in 2012 does feel a bit like flogging a dead horse; at least Cameron and Clegg get a last-minute dig as the Epilogue's men who "made his England bleed."
Filloux-Bennett's take on the play could justifiably be called an adaptation of Shakespeare's work, because while ultimately staying faithful to the overall shape and mood, he's made major cuts and shuffled various lines and characters around to aid his high concept and enable scenes such as American troops torturing hooded prisoners while taking cameraphone pictures. The most obvious change is in dividing up the title role into two new characters: Jack Morris as a very pointedly Blair-like politician, the public face and the man who gives the orders; and a general who acts as a military adviser at first, then gets his hands dirty in the actual campaign, played by Mark Field (who doesn't look entirely unlike another of this summer's Henries.)
If there's a main problem with Filloux-Bennett's production it's that having used two actors for the lead and left himself with an ensemble of only four to cover all the other roles, even with many of those roles cut the amount of doubling becomes a difficult juggling act. It's a shame because in all other respects this is a brilliantly fast-paced production, but the scene transitions are clumsily done and often involve the action just coming to an abrupt halt. The worst instance is when we have to listen to the whole of a horribly overblown rendition of the US National Anthem over footage of Blair with Bush - half an hour into the show, the association is one even the stupidest audience member would surely have made for himself, and the point of US involvement is made perfectly well by turning Exeter and Fluellen into Americans (the latter change possibly risking the ire of any Welsh audience members.) I strongly suspect the entire thing is meant to cover a costume change, but it feels like painfully labouring a point and stops the show dead. (There's also an interval which could and should have been ditched, but given the amount of unnecessary intervals I've seen at this theatre I suspect the pub downstairs demands them.)
Henry V by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 29th of September at the Old Red Lion Theatre.
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including interval.