Peter Bromhead: Pop-up Globe's Henry V far from Olivier

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Play is well-received by younger viewers despite gender reversal.
Overall, I enjoyed the production but, on reflection, would probably only give the performance six out of 10. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Overall, I enjoyed the production but, on reflection, would probably only give the performance six out of 10. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

"Once more unto the breach!" I cried, rallying my wife and 10-year-old to mount the steps of the reproduction Shakespearian Globe Theatre, which has popped-up in our midst with apparent remarkable success.

We were there to see Henry V, one of the bard's more patriotic plays, a work that thinly disguises the true reasons England decided to invade France in the 15th Century.

It's a play that has special connotations for this writer, having first seen the play as a film in 1946, starring Laurence Olivier as Henry V, backed-up by a number of Britain's best-known actors, and with music by William Walton.

I was so entranced by Olivier's production that I acquired a copy of the film and have developed the boring habit of playing the CD on Christmas Day following lunch as a sort of medieval pantomime - it's still an enthralling film.

"Why don't my older children want to share Christmas Day celebrations with me, any more?" I sometimes ask my caregiver.

"It's because they have to sit through your insufferable Henry V movie," she wearily replies.

Now it's time to introduce the pleasures of the play to my latest brood of children commencing with the 10-year old. I decided to soften him up a bit by running the Olivier film past him last weekend.

As soon as the Archbishop of Canterbury in the film appeared with his long-winded speeches justifying the legalities and moral reasons for invading France, my son swiftly lost interest and pleaded to be allowed to retreat to his bedroom to play some idiotic robotic monster game on his computer.

I remained heartless, forcing him to continue watching, with the promise of some great battle scenes that climax the work.

So, I was somewhat apprehensive about taking him to the pop-up theatre to undergo the ordeal again.

The first impression of the theatre was that it was like being in the interior of a half-constructed commercial building site, visually dominated by masses of scaffolding that is the mainstay of the theatre.

From a balcony seat, we looked down on the stage that juts out into the circular cockpit of the auditorium. Despite the scaffolding, the feeling is intimate and, once filled by the enthusiastic audience, one could easily imagine how wonderful the theatre experience must have been in Elizabethan London.

The Auckland performance had and all-woman cast, which was disconcerting for this elderly connoisseur of the play. This is in contrast to early-historic productions when the casting was reversed and even female roles were played by males.

I'm glad I'm not the official reviewer of this production. As a male, one would be condemned if one panned the play and be swiftly dismissed as chauvinistic.

On the other hand, if one over-praised the work, one would be regarded as "patronising".

I was disappointed with the lady who played the lead role. The acting did not suggest a powerful regal figure remonstrating with the French ambassador, but rather more of a shrew, or nagging wife.

It really is a hard task for a female to play this exacting role with any conviction, especially a rather striking blonde-haired beauty.

The best performances on the night were clearly created by the secondary actors, such as in the comic scenes when Captain Fluellen forces Pistol to consume raw leeks as a method of correction.

The role of the French Princess, Katherine, was also outstanding. The actress demonstrated a light-hearted command of the French language combined with a series of delicate movements with her arms and hands.

This was a modern production, so the cast was soberly dressed in present day clothing, leather motorbike jacket's etc, and sadly not a single gold crown in sight.

Overall, I enjoyed the production but, on reflection, would probably only give the performance six out of 10.

My wife, on the other hand, came away with a splitting headache, but I would like to believe this was not related to the play. My 10-year-old proved surprisingly enthusiastic, which is surely a more worthy accolade to the performance of both the cast and production than the comments expressed by this crusty old, sceptical writer.

- NZ Herald

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