Henry V at Old Red Lion Theatre
Published: 9 August, 2012
by MICHAEL STEWART
Old Red Lion Theatre
Tony Blair as Henry V?
The invasion of Iraq the bastard child of the Battle of Agincourt?
Saddam Hussein as dotty King Charles VI of France?
Does history repeat itself?
It certainly does in Henry Filloux-Bennett’s production of Shakespeare’s play, which yanks it from its medieval setting and embeds it kicking and screaming in the 21st century.
It works sporadically. Jack Morris as a Teflon Henry insinuates himself slyly on to this theatre of war.
His huge disfiguring facial scar mirrors his own ugly, violent soul, no doubt.
The most successful scene is where an Alastair Campbell-like adviser guides, coaxes and bullies King Tony through the “once more into the breach” speech, constantly urging him to give it more welly.
He finally delivers it in true Blair fashion with all his trademark pauses and puppet-show hand gestures, thus voiding it of any real dramatic power.
The least convincing scene is the equating of the Abu Ghraib tortures and humiliations with Henry’s killing of French prisoners.
Throughout, the actions of this very hands-on king are contrasted with video footage of the Iraq war: the battle of Agincourt is fought with bombs and rocket launchers.
Who is that figure who constantly haunts Tony at every grinning photo opportunity?
Is it the ghost of Hamlet’s father?
No, not animated enough and far creepier.
Why, it is George Bush and methinks he had a hand in this sorry affair too.
Moreover, half way through, King Blair mysteriously morphs into another actor – the dynamic and forceful Mark Field.
The smooth-talking politician shape-shifts in the heat of battle.
WMDs are not mentioned.
In truth, the only weapons of mass destruction were the ones Henry brought with him: the Welsh and English longbowmen whose skill won the day for England.
A very unsettling and thought-provoking production.
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