Henry V Live!

Live on the screen that is…

You may remember we went to see Henry V at Stratford last month, and found it most compelling. So compelling in fact that when we had to the chance to see it again, not live but on the screen in the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Derby, we jumped at the chance.

Sadly, only about a dozen other people either knew about it, or were tempted to come, so our friends Gill and David, and John and I sat almost alone, surrounded by empty seats.

From the start we were transfixed, unlike one of the other perhaps less happy few among us. Almost throughout the entire three+ hours there were what sounded suspiciously like loud snores coming from the rows at the front.

We all agreed that there is nothing to beat seeing a play for real, at the theatre, especially if – like at Stratford – one is pretty assured of a good view. The atmosphere and the excitement of actually being there is undeniably special, and cannot really be replicated in the cinema although the film editors do their best to recreate the buzz of excitement as the audience files in, and the hum of conversation as people find their seats, consult their programmes and wait excitedly for the play to begin.

However, just as when watching Wimbledon, cricket and so on, one trades the unique atmosphere of actually ‘being there’ for the very real advantage of a consistently good view: clever editing ensures that the camera is always focusing on the main activity.

Also, the sound is excellent. Watching a play in the round there are always moments when the actor speaking is actually facing the other way, or turns while he is speaking and the sound can be lost.

So… We heard every word, enjoyed many incidents that had slipped our attention or our view last time, and had close up views of the actors whenever they were talking.

Finally, a real bonus for me anyway, was the background ‘chat’ – namely an interview with Greg Doran, the RSC Artistic Director, about the play, its political context, Shakespeare’s intentions, his own intentions, Alex Hassell’s interpretation …

All the actors in Henry V were amazingly good. Alex Hassell in the main role is absolutely fantastic. He is no swash buckling hero riding roughshod. He is brave but contemplative – he manages to portray his (very human) emotions so well, whether it be anxiety, guilt, remorse, doubt, anger or even madly passionate infatuation. The courtship scene between the French-speaking Princess Katharine of France and King Henry of England was truly hilarious: his obvious ardour and his sheer but amused frustration at not being able to convey it, is seriously funny. I was going to say slapstick, but it’s cleverer than that.

The audience in the cinema, we happy few – all 12 or perhaps 15 of us, clapped instinctively when the play ended, quite forgetting for the moment that we were not actually there…

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Marion Fuller-Sessions

Retired and downsized, and sadly now widowed, but keeping in touch with family and friends and friends far and wide via my blog