Henry V review – if Shakespeare had done Brexit

Open Air theatre, Regent’s Park, London
Michelle Terry shines in Rob Hastie’s muted production

The important thing in cross-gender casting is not just the tremendous leads but the default commentator. Rob Hastie’s Henry V shifts the balance by making Charlotte Cornwell an authoritative Chorus. She uses no oratorical flourishes; she sounds as if she is helping us to see things straight. She is a kingmaker who at the opening puts the crown on the mildly surprised head of Michelle Terry. The early discussion of the law about female succession is so dreary that it is sometimes played for satirical laughs at the expense of the greybeards. It looks new-minted here.

Hastie’s production is reflective, muted, with the battle scenes – grouped into tableaux lit by white light – staged too artfully to be rousing. Yet Terry – who has some of the infinitely adaptable qualities of Eileen Atkins – makes something subtle and surprising of the prince. She does not do a girl-man act. No shoulder-rolling. No big-boot work. But nor does she flirt. She is simply a truthful mouther, a dextrous speaker. She’ll do better things than this, but this proves she can do anything.

There is a terrific directorial touch. As Terry delivers her St Crispin’s day speech, proclaiming that anyone is free to go – to “brexit” – one soldier does exactly that, leaving the army on the stage and strolling into the audience. As Terry continues, he stops, listens and finally returns, persuaded. If only.

What better example of the unintentionally site-specific. Regent’s Park becomes a version of an ideal Britain. Lush, green, inviting. Around the stage, bushes press in, heavy with rain. Birds don’t so much chirrup as bellow their freedom. They soar over the stage, unchallenged across boundaries.

At the Open Air theatre, Regent’s Park, London until 9 July. Buy tickets from theguardianboxoffice.com or call on 0330 333 6906


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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