Jude Law as Henry V and company. Photo Johan Persson
It’s been a good year for history plays. From Edward II at the National, to Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Company to Henry V at the Noel Coward’s, they form a perfect chronological line (even if we leapfrogged over Henry IV), which means I can play silly games: John Heffernan is David Tennant’s great-grandfather and David Tennant is Jude Law’s uncle. It’s not every day you can say that.
Silly games aside, how does Michael Grandage’s production of Henry V fare in comparison? Not too badly it turns out, even if it doesn’t scale the dizzy heights of love I feel for the other two productions. It’s an involving if unambiguous version of the play, and what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in fluency and immediacy. I would have liked a more searching reading, but the production’s pull and drive is undeniable.
Jude Law commands stage and language (not to mention subjects) easily. His Henry V is not complex or questioning, but his straightforward commitment is winning and his steering speeches are underpinned by a warm and intelligent presence.
Rae Smith sketch – Juno and the Paycock Donmar 1999
Ron Cook belongs to a group of actors that everyone knows, everyone loves but not everyone can name. He doesn’t often headline projects but invariably gives the stand out memorable performance: his Mr Crabb was the earthy soul in Mr Selfridge, Trelawny of the Wells wouldn’t be half as good without his sparkling talent and his sir Toby Belch is still the best I have seen.
In the last fifteen years, he has regularly worked with the Donmar Warehouse under three different artistic directors (a big achievement in itself), and the company’s digital team have gone through the archives and put up a collection of photographs in their facebook pages.
The digital print (not really a photograph) that caught my attention was Rae Smith’s sketch from the Juno and the Paycock, 1999. The caption simply says: Ron Cook as ‘Joxer’ Daly and Colm Meaney as ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle (1999). Rehearsal sketch by Rae Smith.
The role led to an Olivier Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ron Cook (hard to believe but this is his only nomination so far). Continue reading
The Trelawny of the Wells company. Photo Johan Persson
Within a few seconds of the performance starting, I knew I was going to love Joe Wright’s production of Trelawny of the Wells. The set, with the simplicity and elegance of a puzzle box, is a pleasure to look at, and the first few moments of the production are so joyously startling that, as a calling card, are hard to beat. If that’s me being uncritical, so be it. Some plays are meant to make you happy and on the evidence of this production, I don’t see why I should resist it.
The story touches on things I love: it’s a play about actors. And eventually a play within a play. In 150 years, few things have changed: actors are still gypsies, a little bit touched, envied, loved, disrespected, outrageous, generous and petty in the same breath and looking for a way out. Rose Trelawny is the brightest most talented star of her company but is giving theatre up for the love of a young man from an aristocratic family. Two worlds are set on a collision course.