Stomach for the fight lacking

If ever a king had need of confidence in his cause it must have been Shakespeare's Henry V, revived by Terry Hands for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon last night.

And if ever an actor seemed uncertain of that cause, even of God's support at the crucial moment, it is Alan Howard, whose performance brings to an often over-simplified role a rare, exciting and sincere complexity.

He gives us a sort of queasy and neurotic Christian who is always having profound second thoughts.

And though at times he makes you wonder with his doubts and hesitations whether Hamlet hasn't turned up at Agincourt in error, he goes about his obviously distasteful task with a sufficiently tearful sincerity to draw immediate sympathy.

Mr Howard sees the king as woefully miscast. He himself fits the role - or makes the role fit him - with an impressive integrity - a boyish, pasty-faced youth with a ruminative lower lip and small blue eyes which look for reassurance at once to heaven and into his own heart.

He did not move me greatly, but I felt greatly moved for him, which is perhaps the next best thing. He takes the English victory very sadly, having just read out the list of French dead.

The rest of the production pales a bit beside this pallid, frowning and reluctant hero; and one is greatly relieved when the modern dress opening (suggesting a rehearsal of West Side Story) gives way to the familiar tale told in familiar dress with only Emrys James as a stage-manager chorus still in mufti.

One is also grateful for a truly French Katherine (Ludmilla Mikael) and for Peter Bourke's touching and spirited performance as the Boy.

Altogether it makes a most heartening start to the season, despite the sick-at-heart Harry.

Eric Shorter

Daily Telegraph, 9.4.1975.


Playing Shakespeare/Henry V