Cleansed, Terry does have a cock now.)
And there's a complementary piece of cross-gender casting as Henry's eventual queen,
the French Princess Katherine, is played by a man, Ben Wiggins.
But before we can get to awkward wooing we need to get the violence out of the way,
and on a dubious and convoluted pretext, Henry gets the go-ahead to invade France
and proclaim himself its rightful King, which he does with a comparatively tiny
army, and a ruthless streak that nobody suspected he had in him. Playing up not so
much her gender as her size, Terry's Henry is first seen in shorts, bounding
grinning into the war room like a child, but one to be underestimated at great
Terry doesn't quite reconcile the opposing sides of Henry's personality but does
present both of them convincingly, switching between them in a way suggesting a
power-hungry sociopathy: She's a powerful orator, and Hastie comes up with a way to
give the St Crispin's Day speech a warmth and highly personal touch, by having
Williams (Jack McMullen) initially accept Henry's offer to walk away, only for Henry
to deliver the rest of the speech directly to him in the audience, and convince him
to stay. (Another interesting moment for McMullen's Williams sees him not cower when
the king is revealed as his secret adversary, but have to be held back from fighting
him.) On the other hand the disinterested ambition under the warlike words are
revealed in Henry absolving himself from all guilt over his soldiers' fates, and in
the climactic wooing scene - often played as Henry trying to get his future wife's
love for real, Terry makes it abundantly clear this is just a formality and
Katherine is part of the package he's signed for.
Anna Fleischle's modern-dress design allows the army to look a bit more diverse in
general, with women playing all four of the Captains from the four corners of
Britain, most prominently Catrin Aaron as Fluellen and Cat Simmons as Gower. It's a
bit odd though, that Hastie doesn't change the pronouns, when acknowledging that the
captains are female would make perfect sense in this setting. Over on the French
side, Bhat's petulant Dauphin proves the truly childish of the two antagonists, and
contrasts with Dwane Walcott's characteristically steady Constable.
Between Fleischle's simple set of metal grills through which dry ice escapes and
into which the soldiers tumble into mud, Avgoustos Psillas' surround-sound design
and the slowly encroaching darkness, the battle scenes are particularly well-served
here. Less so the comedy, despite a likeable Pistol from Philip Arditti, although
there's plenty of innovative moments, like having the English lesson between
Katherine and Alice (Joy Richardson) take place as they fence, another of the
production's little twists on gender expectations.
The Open Air Theatre advertises the show as being topical to the upcoming Chilcot
report but of course it also comes as Britain's relationship with Europe is more
fraught than it's been for decades. Despite weather that should have seen the
performance cancelled it carried on tonight, appropriately on a night the country
voted to commit economic suicide in the name of petty xenophobia and for the sake of
a charismatic leader's thirst for power: Terry's playing of Henry as one of the boys
on the surface but coldly ambitious and willing to knock down everything in his way
in reality, is a painfully appropriate take on the character.
Henry V by William Shakespeare is booking until the 9th of July at the Open Air
Theatre, Regent's Park.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Johan Persson.