As I exit my favourite historical theatre after three hours of pure and poetic language and take in the smooth air of the pedestrian southern riverside, I like to recollect quotes that stood out during the evening. The first time I truly paid attention to a Henry V excerpt was during an audition in June, when a young man recited part of the chorus’ lines in a very serious tone. Last night at the Globe, I realised the Chorus could also be performed by a woman in a more caring and playful tone, which in my mind, at some points of the tirades, is inappropriate.
This lenience in gender choice is a great luxury also available to other Shakespeare characters like Midsummer’s Puck or Twelfth Night‘s Feste. Back in his day, did Shakespeare predict that women would one day be allowed to play his words and be offered a few more roles than expected?
“… and from the tents
The armourers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation.” Chorus, Act 4, Prologue
Jamie Parker. Classic look but (and although this is not directly related – see William Blake) “O for a voice like thunder”. Apart from a love declaration that lasted too long towards the end of the play, you do not get tired of his motivational speeches, expressions of doubt and overall humanity. The actor dared what I am often afraid to do and inserted modernity into the text by lending it a new melody and cutting the prose at certain places to show doubt and sorrow for the men he lost at war. I look forward to seeing him play a new king, as, despite being “but a man”, he does so with great conviction.
“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother” Henry, Act 4, Scene 3
While the Chorus humbly reminds us that we are but in a theatre watching something staged and Bardolph invites us, the audience, to join him and run “unto the breach”, I felt that in the context of the current Olympic Games that bring with them patriotism and friendship between countries, this production truly made me feel like dancing to the final Morris dance on that magnificent stage.