You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

West End Review: ‘Henry V’ Starring Jude Law

The actor's thrillingly immediate take on the titular king anchors Michael Grandage's bold, winning production of the patriotic Shakespeare play.


Jude Law, Harry Attwell, Jason Baughan, Norman Bowman, Jessie Buckley, Richard Clifford, Ron Cook, Ian Drysdale, Noma Dumezweni, Michael Hadley, Edward Harrison, Christopher Heyward, Fred Lancaster, James Laurenson, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Rhys Meredith, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Maddie Rice, Matt Ryan, Ashley Zhangazha.

“I speak to thee plain soldier. If thou canst love me for this, take me!” No wonder Jessie Buckley’s grave, beautifully controlled Princess Katherine reacts like a rabbit trapped in the headlights: Jude Law’s avowal of love is so direct, so immediate, that his clarity of purpose verges on the shocking. And this in a scene usually played for (minimal) laughs. Law’s soldierly yet touching handling of King Henry’s wooing makes complete sense within the scene and crowns Michael Grandage’s winning interpretation of the famously patriotic “Henry V.”

Shakespeare’s study of leadership during a time of war was made into an Oscar-winning film directed by and starring Laurence Olivier during, appropriately, World War Two. Half a century later Kenneth Branagh made his movie debut repeating that double-duty. But although there have been notable productions in living memory at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, there’s a reason the last commercial West End production anyone can find was as far back as 1938.

Despite its retelling of an unexpected David-and-Goliath-scale victory against the French complete with celebrated rallying cries (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends”), the play’s extended arguments about the (il)legality of war and a king’s relationship to his people can make it seriously intractable.

Instead of either disguising the difficulties or updating the action for easy legibility, Grandage faces it head on. Mirroring his career-high presentation of “King Lear” which played the Donmar and Gotham’s Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2011, he and his unified production team take the almost radical approach of sticking to the play’s 15th century setting, but without all the usual accoutrements. Adhering to the opening directive: “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them/Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth,” designer Christopher Oram focuses not on display but on audiences’ imagination.

All flummery is stripped away. His monumental set is simply a curved back wall of doors on a bare, raked stage. The aged timber splattered with white plaster echoes the line “this wooden O” (a reference to the Globe theater) and, crucially, soaks up light. This provides a stage-wide canvas for lighting designer Neil Austin who produces his most exciting work since his Tony-winning design for Grandage’s “Red.” On this standing set, Austin’s shifting intensities and walls of light create thrillingly contrasted moods and locations that, crucially, allows audiences to focus completely on the actors.

Law’s Hamlet (seen on Broadway in 2009) showed an actor with commanding stage presence. Coupling that to his star status gives him welcome ease in portraying a young king to whom all others must defer. Even when attentive to the lengthy legal defense of foreign invasion by patient Michael Hadley as Archbishop of Canterbury, Law suggests a man of action. His swift dispatch of plotting noblemen comes with a sharp-edged pragmatism and his effortlessly full-blooded military command rightly dominates a play about a man who galvanizes his troops and his country.

Shakespeare gives few other characters much development but cast members seize their moments without unbalancing the whole. Caught in half-light, Noma Dumezweni’s calmly caring Mistress Quickly finds infinite pathos is a tiny wave of farewell while Ron Cook’s cock-of-the-walk Pistol adds gloriously self-aggrandizing (and much-needed) humor. As zealous Welshman Fluellen, Matt Ryan takes a usually one-note role of long-windedness and gives it range and depth.

The only major textual alteration Grandage makes is the smart decision to add the role of the boy to that of the Chorus, thus giving the dynamic Ashley Zhangazha a strong through-line as both energized narrator and participant.

Even with Grandage’s clear concentration on connecting idea, action and audience, the first half remains tethered to the play’s lengthy introduction and exposition. The dividends of that clarity, however, are everywhere apparent in the more active second half. The result is a production that in every way provides a climax to Grandage’s groundbreaking, fifteen-month, five-play West End season. Its high-wattage stars and production values with low ticket-prices have proved not only that seriousness of purpose need not result in earnestness, but that it can also be hugely popular.

West End Review: 'Henry V' Starring Jude Law

Noel Coward Theater; 946 seats; £57.50, ($94). Opened, reviewed Dec 3, 2013. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.


A Michael Grandage Company presentation of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.


Directed by Michael Grandage. Sets and costumes, Christopher Oram; lighting, Neil Austin; sound and music, Adam Cork; movement, Michael Ashcroft; production stage manager, Sophie Gabszewicz.


Jude Law, Harry Attwell, Jason Baughan, Norman Bowman, Jessie Buckley, Richard Clifford, Ron Cook, Ian Drysdale, Noma Dumezweni, Michael Hadley, Edward Harrison, Christopher Heyward, Fred Lancaster, James Laurenson, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Rhys Meredith, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Maddie Rice, Matt Ryan, Ashley Zhangazha.

More Legit

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Ink review

    Broadway Review: 'Ink' With Jonny Lee Miller

    Garish, lurid and brash, “Ink,” the British import now on Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club production, is the theatrical equivalent of its subject, the UK’s Daily Sun — the newspaper that reshaped British journalism and propelled Rupert Murdoch’s ascent to media mogul. Like the tabloid, it feels unsubstantial, rushed and icky. You can’t say [...]

  • All My Sons review

    London Theater Review: 'All My Sons' With Sally Field, Bill Pullman

    If “All My Sons” is showing its age, it sure shows no signs of abating. Just days after a major revival opened on Broadway, moving Annette Bening and Tracy Letts into the Tony zone, up the play pops in London. The Old Vic has arguably secured the starrier cast, too: Bill Pullman and Sally Field [...]

  • Tootsie review

    Broadway Review: 'Tootsie'

    The new Broadway adaptation of “Tootsie” is old-fashioned and proud of it — and it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser, in this musical spin on the 1982 film comedy with Santino Fontana in the Dustin Hoffman role. Robert Horn (book) and Tony-winner David Yazbek (score) have a high old time poking fun at theatrical rituals — the [...]

  • Kelli O'Hara

    Listen: How Kelli O'Hara Brings #MeToo to 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    “Kiss Me, Kate” is one of the best-known titles in musical theater. But in this day and age, the “Taming of the Shrew”-inspired comedy’s depiction of the gender dynamic seems downright, well, problematic. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Kelli O’Hara is well aware of that, and so were her collaborators on the Roundabout Theatre [...]

  • All My Sons review

    Broadway Review: 'All My Sons' With Annette Bening

    Don’t be fooled by the placid backyard setting, neighborly small talk and father-son joviality at the start of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s blistering revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts. There are plenty of secrets, resentments and disillusionments ahead, poised to rip this sunny Middle Americana facade to shreds. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content