Henry V at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Henry V reviews at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe ★★★★

Reviews are coming in for the new production of Shakespeare’s Globe and Headlong’s Henry V at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Starring Oliver Johnstone in the title role, Henry V runs in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe until 4 February 2023.

Other cast in Henry V include Joséphine Callies as Katherine/Boy, James Cooney as Thomas/Orleans/Gower, Georgia Frost as Nym/Michael Williams/Rambures, Jon Furlong as Bardolph/John Bates/Constable of France, Joshua Griffin as Bedford/Fluellen, Eleanor Henderson as Queen of France/Prince Louis/Ambassador 1/Le Fer, Geoffrey Lumb as King of France/Erpingham/Governor of Harfleur/Ambassador 2, Helena Lymbery as Henry IV/Exeter and Dharmesh Patel as Scroop/Pistol/Montjoy/Officer.

The creative team includes Headlong artistic director Holly Race Roughan, Mona Camille as associate designer, Naeem Hayat as associate director, Azusa Ono as candle consultant and lighting designer, Max Pappenheim as composer and sound designer, Hattie Barsby as costume supervisor, Moi Tran as designer, Cordelia Lynn as dramaturg, Kate Waters as fight director, Glynn MacDonald as Globe associate for movement, Tess Dignan as head of voice, Malik Nashad Sharpe as movement director and Katie Heath as seasonal voice coach.

More reviews to follow.

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Average Critics Rating
★★★★

Henry V reviews

The Guardian
★★★★

"A troubled king reaches for foreign quarrels"

"In this coruscating production from Headlong and Shakespeare’s Globe, Henry’s grasp for power is cast in a stark light"

"In this dynamic co-production between Headlong and Shakespeare’s Globe, Oliver Johnstone’s gentle, troubled Henry transforms under the weight of power, his “soft mercy” slowly turning venomous."

"With dramaturg Cordelia Lynn’s precise, clarifying cuts, we run at pace to war. The battle is fought by a fantastic ensemble taking multiple roles who delightfully embrace the artifice of it all."

"The invented, modern finale draws a neat line between Henry’s England and our own. We’re still forcing foreigners to give in, this production suggests, still clutching a hand on their neck, digging in our nails, until we arbitrarily decide we are satisfied. This is a coruscating production about the desperate grasp for power, and how it does no man or country any good."

Kate Wyver, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard
★★★★

"Fresh, vivid and intense"

"This stripped back production speaks with new and unusual clarity"

"This drastically edited, dramatically stripped back production allows Shakespeare’s study of kingship to speak with new and unusual clarity. Oliver Johnstone’s Henry V is no nationalist hero but a complex figure learning the brutal rules of monarchy and war on the job. It’s performed on a stage bare apart from a few chairs, with a largely young cast in everyday clothes playing multiple roles. And it’s intense."

"In most versions the warrior king immediately shrugs off his younger, wastrel self, but here the transition is more uneven and credible."

"The strains of God Save the King drift through the action but there’s little attempt to draw explicit parallels with the Britain of today until the end. I’m sure the closing scene, where Katherine is given a citizenship test by an immigration official, while a cleaner vacuums the stage around them, will annoy some. But it’s a typically bold ending to a fresh and vivid interpretation."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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TimeOut
★★★

"Henry V gets a Richard III makeover in this none-more-dark new take on the patriotic war play"

"This darkly comic co-production between the Globe and Headlong amps up the darkness around Oliver Johnston’s Henry to almost preposterous levels. Nicking a bit of ‘Henry IV Part 2’ as a prologue, Holly Race Roughan’s production shows Henry V as a bullied son who never really manages to master his emotions, vacillating from one extreme to the other, rarely in a good way."

"Still, much as I enjoyed its camp black humour, I struggled with why any of it was actually happening."

"... it zips along a treat, has a fistful of great new jokes and there is something impressively irreverent about the plethora of cuts and changes. In the final analysis, none of this adds up to any great new meaning. But it has enough demonic verve to style it out. Just."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Telegraph
★★★★

"Henry V thrillingly retooled as a Macbeth-style psychodrama"

"Holly Race Roughan’s production is fast and slick, digging deep beneath the play’s presentations of power"

"It starts with a theft. Rather than the usual prologue, this thrilling revival of Henry V begins with a scene from the end of Henry IV Part 2 in which a trembling Prince Hal takes the crown from his sleeping father, admittedly thinking him dead. It’s a clever throwback, establishing for this most seemingly nationalistic of plays a framework that allows for resonant ideas of legitimacy and imperialism to be in constant debate."

"This is a fast, slick, spare production that rarely skimps on detail as it digs deep beneath the play’s presentations of power, nationhood and, yes, pesky testosterone. In a chilling echo of the death of Scroop, Fluellen, often played as a bit of “Welsh” light relief, is brutalised by the racist taunting of Pistol into almost throttling him to death too."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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The Times
★★★

"A back-to-basics staging"

"Here’s a Shakespearean chronicle reduced to basics by a young cast. Squeezed into the confines of the Sam Wanamaker, Holly Race Roughan’s production thrusts us into a cramped and chaotic battlefield. There are moments of visual poetry, even if Roughan can’t always resist talking down to us."

"Oliver Johnstone gives an assured performance as Henry, but this is a king, sporting what looks like a secondhand overcoat, who is a smouldering mess of half-suppressed neuroses."

"Azusa Ono’s sepulchral lighting adds to the sense of claustrophobia. As does the eerie period music by Max Pappenheim, the strings creating drone effects that evoke the buzzing of flies hovering above corpses.:

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Observer
★★★★

"Oliver Johnstone mesmerises as Henry V"

"In an extraordinary stripped-back version, for which the playwright Cordelia Lynn was the dramaturg and Holly Race Roughan the director, you seem to be looking into the core of the young king. The battlefield may be France, the site of contention England. But it is also the self."

"Oliver Johnstone is terrific: utterly concentrated; steadily growing; a young king propelled by anger but riven. There are reminders of Hamlet and of Richard II. He delivers “once more unto the breach” hugging his knees, not roaring at troops but willing himself into action."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Financial Times
★★★★

"More national soul-searching is on the agenda for Holly Race Roughan’s intense, stripped-down version of Henry V. Productions of Shakespeare’s history play often aim to catch the state of the nation — witness Laurence Olivier’s patriotic 1944 film. Race Roughan whittles it down to a troubled national psychodrama in which Oliver Johnstone’s brooding, uneasy king is haunted by his father’s deathbed advice to “busy giddy minds/With foreign quarrels” and brutalised by his subsequent practice of that instruction."

"We lose some of the driving energy and comic relief in the play and the beginning feels pretty dense: it’s perhaps not the best version to see as your first Henry V. But it’s a revealing, intelligent production that interrogates both the issues in the play and its role in our understanding of England’s history. A coda has Katherine answering questions from an immigration official while a member of cast hoovers around their feet: a tart suggestion that this is a country still hung up on (dubious) glories past."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Stage
★★★★

"Subversive interpretation that doesn't play by the rules"

"Moody reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s patriotic history play"

"From its opening moments, it’s clear that director Holly Race Roughan’s sharp, dark and stripped-down production of Shakespeare’s drama isn’t playing by the rules."

"Oliver Johnstone gives a fascinating performance as a damaged, in-over-his-head Henry, making the character’s journey from wastrel to warlord feel like a messy, bloody, believably complicated process rather than the sudden virtuous conversion of some depictions. Instead, Johnstone’s Henry grows slowly and uncomfortably into the role, learning along the way that he has a talent for violence, threat and coercion."

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
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📷 Main photo: Henry V at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photo by Johan Persson

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