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FringeReview UK 2019

Low Down

Directed by Sarah Bedi and Federay Holmes with spare design by Jessica Worrall. Costume supervision’s by Lucy Martin, with crowns and millinery by Rebecca Hartnoll and Jane Smith with (vitally) Pam Humpage on wigs – with Jenny King Embroidery adding a map-cloth and various pageantries hung around. Tayo Akinbode’s percussion-rich composition is used incredibly sparingly, but it’s the songs that haunt. Kevin McCurdy directs fight scenes.


The Globe’s Henry V opens with a split chorus, democratising rumour and news, and ends with a single one spoken by Helen Schlesinger, underscoring the disaster of Henry VI, already written, will follow (in the Wanamaker this winter). It’s emblematic both for that democracy, and suddden solitude. This Henry V is the only one of the current Globe trilogy not renamed – underlining how ‘uneasy the head that wears the crown’ truly is: no-one else is left. Sarah Amankwah’s energy in the title role is vital: she never flags.


As in Hotspur and Falstaff, energy concentrates in a few characters which lends occasional unevenness; brightness in this Henry V doesn’t always cast shadows. There’s rehearsals planned for the summer too: what you might see then could be different again. Another house style emerges in Brechtian scene-changes where costumes are doffed downstage.


Directed by Sarah Bedi and Federay Holmes’ spare design by Jessica Worrall cleverly pushes regalia to gallery hangings, suggests a brief bare inn and much of dark, sodden ground. Neither modern nor period, garb glories in gallimaufry: from Henry’s burgundy and gold letters enfolding all the nobles, to blankets for huddling soldiers. The French are colour-coded: a glorious sky-blue, Fleur-de-Lys: prancing apparel, with pantaloons.


Costume supervision’s by Lucy Martin, with crowns and millinery by Rebecca Hartnoll and Jane Smith with (vitally) Pam Humpage on wigs – with Jenny King Embroidery adding a map-cloth and those gallery flags (mainly French). Tayo Akinbode’s percussion-rich composition is used incredibly sparingly, but this time there’s a magnificent concluding image – aural and visual – of drumming. It’s a spectacular end to the trilogy. Kevin McCurdy directs the many fight scenes including a spectacular inn-brawl.


Amankwah’s Hal leaps into Henry with a dash and power that’s thrilling. Her ‘once more’ as she jumps down perilous ladders sets the stage ablaze and is helped by a smoky moment as slats explode and fall behind from the stage’s two side-doors. Here’s a potentially superb king, full of vim and voice, alert, regal when required and mordantly amused elsewhere. From the opening scene with a shorn archbishop speech she radiates the power she assumes in Harfleur.


Amankwah’s voice deepens fully here; not much of Hal remains. There’s one misjudged scene. Elsewhere too the shouty erupts in awkward places. Amankwah has no need of it: she has it all already. Her vocal journey throughout the trilogy of darkening and covering the voice whilst still making it ring out is complete. Potentially it’s breathtaking and in snatches you catch you breath at what Amankwah can become.


It’s Williams’ squaddie insolence as Henry sees it, that sets off a raging ‘cry havoc’ volume that proceeds through what’s in fact a troubled angsty soliloquy. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Henry – though it’s rightly applauded. Here its been decided to play that moment to the rafters in case we miss it instead of the deadlier ‘I was never angry’ when hearing of the killing of the boys. Killing prisoners – which just precedes that discovery – isn’t shirked though. There are quieter physical ways to express crisis. Amankwah nevertheless gets humility and ‘God be thanked’ with a sloughed relief. One moment Amankwah misses is confirming Bardolph’s impending execution: there can be a flicker through the death-sentence.


Steffan Donnelly’s charmingly Machiavel Prince John is backgrounded this time, along with Rambures – one of the doomed braggart French knights. His Captain Fluellen commands energy, a bit of swerve-ball fun and the right kind of amour-propre to counteract the wrong kind vaunted by Rambures.


Philip Arditti’s role as a repining condemned Cambridge gives way to a rather noble King of France and a swashbuckling Captain Gower – the sort of person Pistol dreams of being. Gower delivers his line ‘Our king is not like him {Alexander} in that: he never killed any of his friends’ addressed to Fluellen who might guess Henry just has, with a deadpan innocence that for a beat, encounters hushed recognition.


Nina Bowers’ roles as Grey, Orleans, and French Messenger get stronger as the play progresses. As Williams the soldier who unwittingly challenges the King she’s quick-witted, truculent, unrepentant at a potential death sentence, here shaming the King who’s in high dudgeon after the initial exchange. It’s a darker, dodgier moment than usual and one of the neatest triumphs.


Colin Hurley enjoys five roles – gentle French Montjoy as well as Scroop and Bates, Williams’ surly companion. Chief is a brace of roles, memorably a swaggering Pistol. More bullish and unpleasant to Nym – there’s a full scrap only just averted by Bardolph in this production – Hurley’s in black with braided regalia like those U. S. president who’s been as far as the National Guard. In fact Hurley’s burly Pistol almost convinces you he’s real, till a flinch betrays him.


Hurley’s dress sense is again faultless as the future Queen Katharine, with her duetting in French with Leaphia Darko’s Alice (also Gloucester and doomed Hastings). Costumes are resplendent, French blue and satiny – Alice’s in particular, a swatch of luxury on dusty boards. It’s excellent knockabout not for the visuals this time but the way they freshen a set-piece: that placement of c-and-other-language and repeated shies at pronunciation – their French too is excellent. Hurley makes it clear her interview with Amankwah’s conquering suitor is gritted out of her. With the MacMorris/Fluellen squabble omitted this scene appears early till you readjust.


One grievous omission is the famous moment from Act III/7, with the French Constable’s scornful ‘Who hath measured the ground?’ when English proximity is mooted. Given this production’s fetishizing French arrogance, the nailing line’s absence guys it.


Sophie Russell’s Boy reappears red-capped with a ‘shog off’ to his masters; but he’s perilously landed with them, in the baggage train. A regal Archbishop too, Russell’s moment is cut by the whole dodgy exposition of Henry’s right to France being shorn – it’s a pity a little isn’t left so we can taste its sour falsehood. As Dauphin Russell enjoys a peacocking hauteur, as Burgundy a more sober and an English herald a more breathless one.


John Leader having stolen previous tavern scenes as Bardolph is still the best-detailed I’ve seen. Here too there’s an incipient foreboding, Falstaff’s last gift to his luckless comrades. Leader only appears again as Warwick and aged Erpingham – Bardolph’s executioner.


Jonathan Broadbent’s appearances as Mistress Quickly get some of the final laughs here as be plays up fluidity against itself; his green-tipped dress flourishes once more as Quickly tries pacifying Nym whilst Pistol claims her. With Quickly’s exit Westmorland and Constable give less scope this time.


Helen Schlesinger’s return as Exeter Le Fer and Queen Isabelle wouldn’t allow much scope but as Nym her keen intelligence makes a presence out of a near-silent man, full of a foreboding gravitas. What Schlesinger always observes is the individuality of characters’ rhythms; her Nym is a delight.


This is a breakout for those shunning nationalism to see what a troubling ambivalent work this is. The enormous energy Amankwah brings proclaims greatness in the making: not a bad epitaph for a trilogy whose theme is just that.