Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 24 April, 2001

***** Brilliant double-edged portrait of Englishness

The first part of the RSC's remarkable tetralogy makes this deceptively difficult play succeed luminously on all counts.

Shakespeare's play is at once a jingoistic rallying cry of Englishness against the French led by La Pucelle (Joan of Arc) and a critique of England's weakness under a naïve king and ever more hostile factionalism amongst the nobility, which will in Part 2 become the full-fledged Wars of the Roses. It's far from easy to get the balance right between these two strains, harder still to do so while keeping things dramatically interesting rather than dry and earnest.

Michael Boyd's production succeeds thrillingly. Fiona Bell's Pucelle is both inspirational and the faintly ridiculous foreign figure of fun as which she was written; Aidan McArdle's Dauphin is a more comical limbering-up for his big villainous role later in the tetralogy as Richard III. The English in France are excellently led by Keith Bartlett as Lord Talbot; at court, David Oyelowo beautifully captures King Henry's youthful inexprience, and Richard Cordery is an effective though battered rock as his Protector, the Duke of Gloucester. A glorious herald of the three parts to follow, and a major achievement in itself.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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