David Tennant, having worked closely with Doran in the past, most recently in the RSC’s award-winning production of Hamlet in 2008, returns to play Richard, whilst Sir Antony Sher and Alex Hassell – currently performing together in Doran’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, marking the centenary of the American playwright’s birth – reprise their roles as Falstaff and Prince Hal, Hassell following his character into Henry V, which premieres later this year.
Having already sold-out in Stratford, in a sense the productions speak for themselves. This being said, here’s Culture Whisper’s insight into Doran’s impressive cycle, a must-see dramatic leviathan for seasoned Shakespeareans and RSC first-timers alike. Don’t miss your opportunity to experience the Renaissance’s answer to HBO, from The Sopranos to Game of Thrones.
Henry V Barbican Review
To mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, Doran’s band of brothers came together again. We were delighted with this clever and lighthearted take on Henry V which pulled out the comic strains of the play and led us on a merry dance, culminating in hysterical uproar from all by the end.
Having already demonstrated his versatility in Doran's hit run of Shakespeare's early histories, it was no surprise that Hassell triumphed. His stellar performance as Prince Hal was supported by an equally notable performance from Oliver Ford Davies who embodied the chorus with true finesse and humour.
With his high-pitched voice and Hollywood looks, Alex Hassell’s Henry V begins as an inexperienced premier trying to assert his credibility. Perched on a gilded throne, his elated words leave the audience skeptical about his capacity to take charge. Can this young, naïve king really lead his country to glory again? The soldiers at his side do nothing to reassure us, nor does an unintelligible Macmorris (hilarious Simon Yadoo). From the start, the adventure looks highly improbable indeed. And so the stage is set for catastrophe, an idea fuelled by French enemies who are comically lost in their arrogance.
As the play goes on however Alex Hassell’s Henry V gains credibility and charisma. We become swept up in his rhetoric and find ourselves rooting for his success as he embarks, along with his soldiers and lieutenants, on his improbable journey. By the time soprano Helena Raeburn launches into her Sanctum, we found ourselves entirely won over. In spite of the battles and cries of war, it's comedy that has the last word. In the final scenes, Henry’s courtship created such an uproar that it sparkled giggles throughout the audience and on stage alike.
The jubilant and energetic performances were supported by a striking set and costume design. Don't let the grave and sombre aesthetic fool you though, this is a truly jovial play: we highly recommend.
Infrequently preformed and perhaps unfamiliar to many, Richard II is a beautiful lyric tragedy which establishes important thematic motifs which echo throughout this cycle. Richly brought to life by Doran’s detailed production, setting a high standard for himself as well as the rest of the company, David Tennant’s performance as the Christ-like Richard is mesmerising and heart-breaking in equal measure, and is sure to be remembered as one of his great career performances. Don’t be put off by the play’s relative obscurity; the company validate their excellence in pure storytelling whilst retaining the vividness of the text, allowing the audience to really appreciate Shakespeare’s early poetic skill.
Henry IV Parts I & II
Sher’s performance as Shakespeare’s notorious fat, scheming rogue Sir John Falstaff won him the Critics Circle Award for Best Shakespeare Performance last year, though these productions are far from his alone. Jasper Britton – who has just finished an excellent run as the title character of Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta in the RSC’s Swan Theatre – balances power, anxiety and despair in a considered Henry, whilst Alex Hassell’s Prince Hal is consistently energetic, impressively handling the character’s transition across the two plays in a performance which marks him as a leading light in the RSC’s next generation of Shakespearean heavyweights. Hypnotically staged, immensely moving and at times hilarious, these productions more than do justice to their source-material; an unforgettable experience for anyone bold enough to brave a matinee and evening performance on the same day.
|What||Henry V Review, Barbican|
|Where||Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
07 Nov 15 – 24 Jan 16, Performance times vary.
|Price||£10 - £300|
|Website||Click here to book via the Barbican|