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Henry 1V / Henry V

Royal Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars
War is everywhere just now, both onstage in the numerous commemorations
of World War One's centenary year as well as an increasingly ugly real
world. The centrepiece of this year's Bard in the Botanics 'What  We
May Be' season, goes forth with three of Shakespeare's history plays to
tackle both the personal and political consequences of conflict.

Bard in the Botanics director Gordon Barr not only condenses both parts
of Henry 1V into just over two hours, but has it played in the catwalk
of the Kibble Palace by just three actors. It's a version full of macho
swagger that charts Prince Hal's wild years from estrangement from his
father and slumming it with Falstaff to finding out where his true
loyalties lay.

There's an acerbic edge to both James Ronan's Prince and Tom Duncan's
Hotspur, while Kirk Bage lends emotional depth to Falstaff as well as
the King. As Hal takes the throne and leaves the gang behind, the
play's final image is of a rejected Falstaff sitting alone, his meal
ticket lost forever.

What Harry did next can be seen across the gardens in an open-air Henry
V adapted and directed by Jennifer Dick, whose concept frames the play
around a school fete circa 1915, with the pupils and teachers sat
either side of a wooden assembly hall stage flanked by stalls. This
set-up allows the parallels between Agincourt and Flanders to be made
plain, with between-scene interludes flagging up letters from the
school to the families of fallen former pupils. Henry's 'Once more into
the breech' speech, meanwhile, becomes a rabble-rousing dispatch from
the front-line delivered by a man of action over a soundtrack of
gun-fire and bombs.

Such shadows of doom hang even heavier in the second half, with the
cast marching on like a public school cadet force. The men's uniforms
become gradually more up to date, so by the time Henry mouths his 'We
happy few' speech, he may still sport the crown, but he's also wearing
the khaki of an officer in the trenches.

As played here by Daniel Campbell, Henry may have become a statesman,
but you can still see the unruly lad within. Robert Elkin's Boy Chorus
is a crucial figure, from igniting the audience's imagination, to the
way he, like Falstaff, sits to one side, the black arm-band over his
uniform counteracting any triumphalism elsewhere.

The Herald, July 21st 2014

ends

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