Hytner’s Henry V Opens at London’s National May 13

News   Hytner’s Henry V Opens at London’s National May 13
Nicholas Hytner's production of Henry V opens at the National Theatre May 13.

Shakespeare's Henry V is about the invasion and conquest of France by the young King Henry of England, culminating in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The play has been used in seminars for businessmen as an example of leadership skills, and the oratory is some of Shakespeare's most exciting: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close up the wall with our English dead!” and “Cry God for Harry! England and Saint George!”

Hytner's production takes the medieval action and relocates it to the present day, in an Olivier theatre stripped back to the walls, and with a multi-racial cast headed by Adrian Lester as the young King Henry V. At the beginning of the play, the Chorus (a single person, despite the name, and played here by Penny Downie) famously asks the audience to use their imagination to re-create the historic scenes within the limited perimeters of a theatre's stage: “Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?”

Hytner's production in effect does the same, but gives us plenty of moments of realism, from the conference table at which the furious King receives the Dauphin's contemptuous gift of tennis balls to the appearance, on stage, of jeeps with machine guns, the modern-day equivalent of the medieval warhorse.

In interviews Hytner has drawn parallels with the recent war in Iraq, especially the scenes at the beginning of the play where Henry makes it clear that he wants legal (and, hence, moral) justification for going to war.

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