TV Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe and The Hollow Crown, BBC 2

ImageThere’s something truly special about Shakespeare’s The Globe, the Sam Wannamaker inspired theatre that sits like something from a model village on London’s South Bank, dwarfed by the modernist Tate next door.

Open to the elements, and London’s non-stop flight path, there’s no set, the costumes look like RSC cast-offs and the cast are (rarely) big Hollywood names. But within its circular walls, Shakespeare never sounds so alive, nor so relevant in these intimate surroundings. And the comedy, even in a blood soaked history like Henry V, always works so nicely as the actors play into the hands of the groundlings that stand transfixed in front of the stage . You do get a real sense of what it would have been like in Shakespeare’s day, with a (slightly) less stinky crowd and added helicopters.

The Globe’s Henry V season has just finished, picking off where it ended two years ago with Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Henry V seems to be the big Shakespeare play of the year – Tom Hiddleston’s played the Prince turned King in BBC’s Hollow Crown series that ended this weekend while Jude Law (who was there doing some research the night I was there) is stepping into the breach later this year as part of a season of plays at Noel Coward Theatre.

At The Globe this season, Jamie Parker returned as the grown up Harry to lead the English army into battle under the shadow of Agincourt castle. It’s a stirring play that, as many commentators have noted, is particularly apt in this flag-waving year– but it has an emotional, almost moral, depth that both Parker and Hiddleston highlighted. Parker, perhaps wary of the big names who’ve gone before him took the bombastic element out of the big speeches. I quite liked this played down approach, and the BBC’s version took the same path with the ‘St Crispin Day’ speech, choosing to have Henry address an intimate crowd of Lords rather than the whole army. This more personal approach drew out the emotion, the horror of war, and highlighted the play’s Henry-as-a-normal-man theme that dragged the story out of history with a present day humanity.  But as good as the performances and staging were in The Hollow Crown, nothing quite beats watching Shakespeare under the stars with actors battling against the planes and elements.

by Suzanne Elliott

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Book Review: The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

ImageWritten over 50 years apart, Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize winning The Sense Of An Ending followings the unravelling of Tony Webster’s memories as his buried past is jolted back into life by the arrival of a lawyer’s letter. Meanwhile, Leo, The Go-Between’s narrator, is taken back 52 years to the first summer of the 20th century when he discovers his 13 year-old self’s diary in a long-forgotten trunk.

Bookended by a prologue and epilogue, both set in Leo’s present, take us into the story (Hartley’s opening line, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”, is arguably more famous than the novel itself) and (sort of) tidies thing up at the end for us and for Leo.

The core of the novel is set in the first few months of the 20th century, a century that Leo is filled with confidence in, believing it to be the dawn of  “a Golden Age”.

The century certainly starts off well for him, as he rises to prominence at his boarding school after a spell he writes in his diary directed at two bullies seems to work when they fall to their near-deaths from a roof. His black magic powers seem to continue when his desire for the term to end early comes true when the school is closed after a bout of chicken pox. As a result, he’s invited to stay at his friend Marcus’ grand family house in Norfolk for holidays.

Thrust into a world of Viscounts and strange customs (wearing slippers to breakfast is looked down upon as “something bank clerks do”), Leo becomes enthralled by Marcus’ beautiful sister Marian, who gently, although to an adult’s eye, somewhat maliciously, teases him and spoils him in equal measure. But his infatuation with her leads him into a dangerous game when, persuaded by her lover (who Leo also develops a fascination for) the farmer Ted Burgess, to carry letters between the pair, they are free to continue their clandestine love affair with catastrophic results.

The Go-Between is a wonderful read. Rich and multi-layered, Leo’s 12-year-old voice is so beautifully realised and the Edwardian world, that you, as a 21st century reader knows is about to collapse around their ears, is bought vividly to life. And I’m a sucker for a country house setting, with all its fading glamour and unfathomable to the outsider rituals.

The blazing sun of a glorious July is an omnipresent character; Leo becomes obsessed with the barometer gauge, desperate for the dial to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hartley uses the weather both as metaphor and as a way to bring life in the big house to life. I could feel the prickling of sweat on skin, the heat of the sun on your face, the refreshing sound of water as they swam. Suddenly this world wasn’t a million miles away from mine (although I did read in during a very soggy summer, so it did stretch my imagination).

The weather as metaphor is almost a clichéd literary device and in the hands of a lesser writer, could sound as limp as Golden Retriever in the heat. But in Hartley’s skilled hands, the oppressive heat and the symbolic thunderstorm that breaks on Leo’s last day at the Hall, sound as fresh as a day after a storm.