The king is weeping as his subjects sing his praises. 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.

Amid the golden candle glow, Holly Race Roughan’s finely tuned production starts at the end of Henry IV part II, with Harry’s father’s final piece of advice to his son: “Busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels.” When a single tennis ball is sent to mock him from the Prince of France, Henry’s need to overpower the French becomes a way to prove his strength – to himself, his dead father, and his bleeding country.

The newly crowned king dances between his gut-deep desire to be merciful and his heady need to be seen as strong. After a moment of violence, he berates himself, sickened by what he’s done. Rather than a rallying cry to his people, his instruction to “stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood” is given only to himself, his weaknesses reflected back at him in Moi Tran’s beautifully grubby, bronze set.

Oliver Johnstone, top, and Joshua Griffin in Henry V at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
Running at pace to war … Oliver Johnstone, top, and Joshua Griffin in Henry V at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Henry’s cruelty comes to a head in a blazing scene between the Queen of France (Eleanor Henderson) and Princess Katherine (Joséphine Callies), as Katherine is given to Henry. She recoils from him and he aggressively twists her neck for a kiss. When he leaves, Katherine’s frantic plea to her mother to help her learn English becomes desperate, the words – for hand, neck, nails – blurring amid her tears.

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. When they call on us to “Behold the threaden sails / Borne with the invisible and creeping wind”, the company offers the stage as a make-believe space to grapple with these impossible questions of goodness and nationhood, as a chance to challenge our history through play.

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.

You May Also Like

Strikers can claw back lost earnings using loophole that Tory MPs are now demanding is closed

Tory MPs last night demanded the closure of a loophole that lets…

Officials Say Ex-Bills Punter Matt Araiza Won’t be Charged for Rape

Officials in San Diego have said that they won’t be charging former…

FDA gives priority review to Pfizer RSV vaccine for older adults

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted Pfizer’s application for an RSV…

One woman killed, another critically injured in Denver stabbing

DENVER — One woman was killed and another was critically injured in…

Jim Jordan Parrots Kevin McCarthy’s Talking Points in Breitbart Speaker Interview

House Freedom Caucus Vice Chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) parroted Kevin McCarthy’s…

Charles and William ‘to respond robustly to any unjust claims’ in Harry and Meghan’s Netflix series

King Charles and Prince William are poised to issue a ‘swift and…

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Greg Steube

Host Alex Marlow begins with a recap of the Georgia U.S. Senate…

Man arrested in connection to November shooting in Denver

DENVER — A man was arrested for investigation of attempted first-degree murder…