3/9/09, Trafalgar Studios
2 hrs, 30 mins. The OUDS production en route from Oxford (via one night only in Stratford, for some reason) to Tbilisi in Georgia. Produced by the veteran Thelma Holt (who's been organising an international OUDS tour for a dozen years), with backing from Cameron Mackintosh. They're a well-connected lot: one cast member is son of a famous theatre director, the fights were arranged by Terry King who does this sort of thing for the RSC, no less (in the front row at the Trafalgar Two it felt like a sword might take a knee off at any minute, but with King in charge I was probably wrong to worry).
Two names to watch: director Tim Hoare and actor Jacob Lloyd, who played Henry. Lloyd has a commanding presence, comports himself like a king and speaks the verse as if he knows what it means. Hoare has a clear idea of what he wants, a fine sense of pace and some nice ideas and either undertook himself or commissioned a very clever stripped-down version of the play, bracketing it with the deathbed scene between Hal and the King from Henry IV Part 2, and the news of Henry V's death from the start of Henry VI Part 1, so giving the play a sense of context and emphasising the extent to which Henry and Agincourt were brilliant flashes in the otherwise dismal 15th century wars (of the Roses and against France).
We lost a lot of the lowlife stuff, including the by-play between Fluellen and Jamie and the rest, so it became less of a "picture of England" and more a portrait of a tough, successful and sometimes brutal king (he participates in the execution of the prisoners himself; personally oversees the hanging of Bardolph before cutting him down). We also lost the comic "naming of parts" scene between Katherine and her maid.
Some of the cuts produced clever tricks: Henry swaps gloves with the bolshy soldier before Agincourt... but then returns the glove not to a living survivor but to a dead body when he finds the soldier on the battlefield.
There were just ten in the cast, three girls (who played several male parts including the Chorus, the Boy and Montjoy the French Herald -- the latter rather well done by Martha May). Let's say some of the players were stronger than others, but none were actively embarrassing.
The English wore red, the French blue which helped with the doubling (though must also have required some pretty quick changes backstage); and knowing the play probably helped too. What the Georgians will make of it is anyone's guess.