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Henry V

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

The siren's call is a call to arms of sorts in Jennifer Dick's reimagining of Shakespeare's most triumphal piece of wartime propaganda, which here sets out its store in the 1940s. Evacuees run wild in the country while the world about them attempts to bomb each other out of existence. With sandbags and a Union Jack at one end of Carys Hobbs’ set and a cinema poster for Laurence Olivier's big-screen vanity version of the play at the other, the games that unfold beyond the dressing up box are hand-me-down fantasies of nationhood.

As the gang gather to the sound of vintage wartime warmers by the likes of the Andrews' Sisters and George Formby, leader of the pack is Lynsey-Anne Moffat's Chorus. She shoves her playmates around, handing out the cardboard crowns inbetween making up the story as she goes along. Once everybody gets to grips with the grown-up stuff, the war with France can begin.

Adam Donaldson is a natural for King Henry, clad in boy-scout shirt and shorts and with a rough-hewn charisma that demands attention. Moffat and the other five people onstage roar their way through the Kibble Palace, doubling up as assorted states-people from both sides. On the flipside, Ben Noble, Claire Macallister, Alan Mirren and Natalie Lauren invest the play's comic cannon fodder with a more earnest sense of being caught in the crossfire.

It's as if the play, performed as part of this summer's Bard in the Botanics season, has been dreamt up by the real life cast of Michael Apted's seminal Up documentary series, which since 1964 has watched children grow up beyond their seven-year-old selves. Like them, as the world becomes an infinitely more serious place in Dick’s production, the reckless derring-do of infants gives way to older and more cautious characters.

Ultimately, Dick's adaptation is a play for Europe, of auld alliances that sees nations at each other's throats before embarking, like Katherine and Henry, on a bilingual romance before it all falls apart and they're childishly turning their backs on each other once more. It could never happen here.

The Herald, July 5th 2019



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