I was one of those sceptics when it came to Jude Law and his acting ability, until I saw him as Hamlet in the Donmar’s West End Production, directed by Michael Grandage. Following this and his magnificent turn as Mat Burke in Anna Christie at The Donmar, again directed by Mr. Grandage, I can quite see why he cast him as another iconic Shakesperian character, Henry V in this final production of his MGC company season in the West End. Henry V is shown here at The Noel Coward Theatre to be a commanding monarch, a charismatic and inspiring leader, a romantic and funny to boot.
The rest of the cast are not half bad either, with all of them bringing Shakespeare vibrantly to life and rendering the speech eloquent and easy to understand.
Christopher Oram has the cast largely dressed in medieval attire, with one exception. An excellent Ashley Zhangazha as the Chorus and Boy, sports a Union Jack T-shirt and jeans, as a device for comparing the happenings on stage with our modern day conflicts. His flexible stockade set proves extremely effective, not least because it is in conjunction with excellent lighting by Neil Austin. By turns it can be battlefield cold or courtly warm but is most effective on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt when the men sit or lie huddled around their makeshift fires under a starry sky.
Despite a receding hairline, Jude Law is still the good looking man that helped shoot him to fame as a relative youngster. The difference now is that his looks are secondary to his talent. Commanding the stage, his natural charm shines forth, enabling us to quite see why his troops, though weary, are easily roused to fight another day. But he also brings a brooding intensity to the role. Does he really believe there is justification for invading France and all that that entails? Obviously not and it often sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself he’s doing the right thing. The ambiguity of the play, thanks to him is plain as plain.
As is to be expected Michael Grandage draws out exceptional performances all round. Ron Cook gives a naturally funny performance as the cynical and cowardly Pistol. Matt Ryan’s Fluellen, the Welsh windbag, who can never use one word when five will do is hilarious. And the two actresses, Noma Dumezweni as Mistress Quickly and Alice and Jessie Buckley as Princess Katherine are excellent. One of the most touching speeches in the play, when Mistress Quickly laments the death of Falstaff is beautifully captured. Jessie Buckley meanwhile makes a delicate, aristocratic Princess and there is strong chemistry between her and Jude Law. Their courtship is a joy, with Henry, awkwardly stuck for words and Katherine taking some time to submit to his charms. We’re not altogether convinced that this isn’t some sort of PR exercise on the part of the King, but his warmth and good humour is very endearing. And his announcement of “here comes your father” sounds so much like a naughty schoolboy it illicits the biggest laugh of the evening.
Shakespeare is certainly packing in the punters at the moment and quite rightly so when we’re treated to this kind of brilliant adaptation.