at Shakespeare’s Globe, Sunday 13th May 2012
I don’t envy National Theatre Belgrade for being given Henry VI Part 1 as their play in the Globe to Globe season; creating an exciting, sustained production of – arguably – one of Shakespeare’s worst plays without the narrative of the rest of the trilogy to prop up ideas is no mean feat. Astonishingly, however, under Nikita Milivojević’s direction, the play is given drama, intrigue and dashings of comedy.
Henry V’s ashes preside over the central round table, watching down on these squabbling protagonists until the end of the play. As his friends and heirs fight it out over who the kingdom belongs to, we are constantly reminded of a more harmonious period. In the present, however, there is no chance of peace any time soon, and whenever is slips into reach, it disappears swiftly.
Milivojević’s production, performed in Serbian, revels in the farcical nature of these factions. Much is made of Pavle Jerinić and Bojan Krivokapić’s comic messengers, who guide us through England’s confusing history with some wonderful bits of slapstick.
Elsewhere, it’s very clear to see that this is a production which sees the differences between the Yorkists and Lancastrians as petty and inconsequential. Boris Maksimović’s ingenious set, consisting of the central table which splits into various sections in order to create multiple settings, becomes a character in itself, dividing and segregating; the characters take their anger out on it by bashing loud drum beats on its surfaces to the time of Bora Dugić’s doom-laden music.
It’s easy to forget there are only twelve actors performing the many roles in this play. Though characterisations are sometimes reduced to archetypes (Predrag Ejdus’ Winchester) and some actors succumb to overacting at times, most cast members shine. Hadzi Nenad Marićić’s Henry and Aleksander Srećković’s Charles are well balanced, whilst neither Boris Pingović’s Somerset nor Slobodan Beŝtić’s Plantagenet come off well in their feud. Jelena Dulvezan, the only woman in the play, seems like the only sane person in this world of men.
There are a few issues; the slow-motion fighting could be a lot tighter and the scene changes smoother, but these are small problems in an otherwise brilliant piece of work. Marina Medenica’s intricate period costumes anchor the production in the past, but throughout we are constantly reminded that these banalities are exactly the basis for many wars. And as Henry V’s ashes are spilt by the messengers in a hilarious scene at the close of the play, it feels like the spectre of the past has disappeared and the stage has been set for clear future. If only that were the case.