Had to ask...Now the Vorkosigan books... Or is it Henry V?

Anna Clare McDuff amcduff at math.sunysb.edu
Wed Jul 2 08:20:06 EDT 2003

On Wed, 2 Jul 2003, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

> I'm not *entirely* wedded to the Miles and Hamlet similarities, and
> now that you mention it, could make room there for a few Miles and
> Henry V ones too.   :-)  As a recovering Henry V obsessive, I
> probably shouldn't ask, but do you happen to know how long the
> production will be at the National?

	I think it's in rep at the Olivier until August 20th. It's part of
the 10 pound season which means that most tickets are 10 pounds and only
the very "best" are 25 pounds, though in this case I think where I was
sitting (centre front of the circle) gave a better view than most of the
25 pound seats as the stage is vast and the story large. They've done it
entirely in modern dress, with flowcharts and jeeps and rifles instead of
parchment, horses and arrows, but kept to the idea of a largely bare stage
with Chorus coming on to dress the bare boards with words and our
imaginations. It's set in modern London, Henry V wears a business suit and
gives press conferences, and amazingly (to me anyway, as I said I am v
sceptical about Modern Shakespeare) the combination of the modern visuals,
body language and accents with the archaic spendour of the Shakespearean
language really worked well together, each feeding off the other and
creating an alternate universe where the King, backed by his spin doctors,
giving a press conference avidly watched by squabbling channel surfing
squaddies in a pub, and with subtitles by his worried rivals across the
channel, was the most natural thing in the world. For the first time I
actually felt conected to the boozy pub "comedy" scenes, which normally
leave me absolutely cold, but here they felt real and natural and
genuinely funny, and indeed the whole production had that natural, supple
feel to it. Adrian Lester makes a superb Henry, he had absolute command of
his role, his Henry was inspirational, mature, petulent, heartbroken,
playful, businesslike... so many things and all rendered with such
marvellous subtlety and suppleness that he could move between them in a
heartbeat. Watching the play I had a strong feeling that these were my
ancestors, this was my history and that things haven't changed so very
much in the past 500 years as we might sometimes like to think. It's a
really complex, questioning production and all the better for it,
especially in times like these. Henry here isn't simply our Great
Hero-King leading us to victory against the odds, he is also a strategist
capable of great cruelty if he thinks it is necessary to achieve his aims.
Among much else. It's all very messy and complicated and human.  And this
production gives us a lot to think about propaganda, both Shakespeare's
and that of our own time, the cringemaking Victory Video the palace
releases after Agincourt, complete with a Shakespearean rap and massed
choirs singing Deo Gracias, is just much too vulgar to be true and too
true to be denied!

	Oh really it was just great. I loved it. I've been haunting the
theatres lately, they've been staging so many good plays, but I'd put this
up as the best theatre I've seen so far this year and alongside the Coast
Of Utopia as the best theatre I've seen recently. And I'd put Adrian
Lester up with Maggie Smith in Breath of Life on my mental list of Great
Recent Performances. I hope they'll move it somewhere after its time at
the National, maybe take it on tour, it deserves the widest audience it
can get, but I haven't heard anything to that effect... Hate to urge a
recovering HenryVaholic on to further excesses, but do try to see it if
you can!


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