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25/01/14

Jude Law as Henry V

Review written after the show seen on 23rd January at the Noel Coward Theatre, London.

by Irene Kukota

In December 2013 the opening performance of Michael Grandage's Henry V with Jude Law in the title role was received with much acclaim by the majority of critics and audience. According to the BBC News, " among the audience on Tuesday's opening night were acclaimed Shakespearean actor
Sir Derek Jacobi and Richard E Grant, who stars with Law in the British crime comedy film Dom Hemingway".

The critics praised  Law's charisma, determination, and "reigning supreme" on the scene -- enough to whet anyone's theatrical appetites and awaken curiosity. And so, tickets bought, the long-awaited date finally arrived, I went to see the play.

The tone was set by the Chorus, or rather a sole actor impersonating the Chorus (Ashley Zhangazha), and wearing a Union Jack T--shirt and looking very contemporary (apparently, the link with the present). His prologue was accompanied by rather repetitive movements of his hands, somewhat reminding me of a rapping dj. Personally, not exactly my kind of thing, however Grandage definitely had his own opinion about it, presumably, referring to modern day patriotism and pride of the British in their past.

In contrast to the opening scene, the play was performed in period costumes. The decorations were minimalist, but achieved the desired impact. "Less is more" definitely applied here. The opening scene was visually impressing and somewhat redolent of cinematograhic effects with lots of stage smoke to indicate the misty past. The vision of Jude Law sitting on his throne surrounded by bishops and councillors was strongly evocative of illuminations in English Medieval manuscripts with . "Promising!" -- thought I with delight. But the promise only remained a promise. As the music was fading away, the first apprehensions began to creep in.

Although impressive and athletic in his medieval jerkin, Law was probably not the best Henry V. Yes, his declamation was fine. But that was it. I did not perceive a character behind the monologues. The character of a man who led a rather dissipated life in his youth and turned into a hero in his mature years. Yes, it is implied but not revealed.  The stilted dialogue between Henry and his former best friend who had betrayed him left me absolutely cold. Pity.

The monologue about the kingly power and Henry's inner doubts/torments/musings about the nature of king's authority and king's responsibility towards his subjects was totally lost on me. Had I not known it was in the play, I would not recognise the monologue for what it was. Another impression: movement was a problem for Law. He did not work enough on the plastic image of his protagonist, so that at times I had an impression he did not know what to do with his hands, or would place his hand on his chin far too many often and unnecessarily. In the scenes leading to the battle (yes the Crispin's Day speech), the declamation and the accompanying movements stood in dissonance rather than in accord with eath other, and rather killing the impression and my response to the scenes.  Alas, gesticulating (evoking gestures tupical of American action films) and delivering monologues at the top of one's voice did not necessarily communicate the actual presence of Shakespeare's character on scene. Only sporadically so.

As for the hillarious scene of wooing the French princess (which also reminded me of the "Taming of the Shrew") Law somewhat overexaggerated the comical effect, making it a bit of a caricature. Doubtlessly, this scene is a great insight into the differences of temperament and attitudes between the French (sophisticated and refined)  and the English (rough and ready). Granted that the play was written in 1599, one can only wonder in amazement at how little has changed ever since.  I can only say that scenes with the ladies at the French court were all good and delightful to watch. Jessie Buckley and Noma Dumezweni were excellent as Katherine and Alice, and made a fine duo.

In fairness, most comical scenes were good. However, I especially liked the ones played by brilliant Ron Cook (Pistol) and  Matt Ryan (captain Fluellen). Ron Cook's colourful, unprincipled and bawdy character who was seldom steady, be this military action or drunken revelry, enlivened the whole play.

So, I am afraid, for me it was not Jude Law who saved the evening and the theatre visit but other actors. I do not think Law managed to impart the sense of Shakespeare's power and poetry or make the character of Henry V come to life.  Speaking in earnest, I was far more impressed by the brilliant Ron Cook  and talented Jessie Buckley than by Jude Law.

So, here is my indictment: Jude Law is more of a film than theatre actor. He cuts a far better figure on the silver screen. The perfect knowledge of the text and ability to deliver the lines at the top of one's voice in the most stirring moments do not necessarily communicate the convincing power and stage presence to the character. A better acting does.

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What is written here is a personal and very subjective, if a bit grumpy,  view of the author. And certainly the author fully admits and acknowledges that her perception and judgement were significally shaped and warped by the influence of the Stanislavsky school and its approach to acting.

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