Henry V directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Shakespeare's Globe presents Henry V

Henry V directed by Dominic Dromgoole

The Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival is on this week and next and, as well as helping out as a volunteer steward, I have been getting a rush of culture from it.

Last night I watched a production of Henry V at the Salisbury Playhouse, directed by the Globe’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole.

I approach these things as I approach most “gritty” TV drama: I kind of think I ought to see it. It was only as I went into the auditorium I saw the notice that said, “First half 1 hour 30 mins. Interval 15 mins. Second half 1 hour 23 mins.” “Three hours,” said another theatregoer behind me, echoing my own thoughts. My partner would definitely not want to have been there.

In Act One Scene Two I was remembering that I find Shakespeare’s history plays a bit tedious, certainly compared to the tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear) which I know far better and find more compelling. That scene of courtly advice; the lengthy contemplations of the relationship between France and England. I felt, not for the first time, that Shakespeare could have done with a better editor when it came to staging. It’s one thing to read the poetry of this verbal jousting; another thing to watch the same point being made several times in different ways by people on a stage.

But the staging was impressive. With one set – basically a rendition of what we imagine the original Globe stage to have looked like – and very few props, the cast and particularly Brid Brennan as the Chorus brought the action to life. The start of the battle of Agincourt was brilliantly wrought by four archers; the battle scene became a piece of music and movement featuring King Harry, Exeter, Westmoreland and someone else. I particularly loved the final bit of stage business, a cross between and a dance and a curtain call representing the marriage of Henry and Catherine.

Jamie Parker (The History Boys, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2) was good in the lead role. He has the brow for a king and a young king at that. Catherine was impossibly beautiful with lovely French. Best of the supporting cast was Brendan O’Hea as a very amusing Captain Fluellen. The musicians were also fabulous and, to me, very “period” playing a couple of wind of brass instruments I’ve never seen before.

As the final applause died away, a lady to my left who hadn’t held back on her opinion of the production at interval time turned to her husband and said, “He did the main speech very well.” I struggle to think which the main speech is in Henry V as there are so many. In Dromgoole’s production last night there was, I think, only one or two moments when Harry was completely alone on the stage giving a soliloquy. It was the eve of the big battle and it was well done, although I found another moment awkward when Henry’s emotion continued on stage as the Chorus began her link.

I gather Salisbury is the last stop in a tour of this production that has taken in Liverpool, Cardiff, Oxford, Cambridge and Bath so far. Dromgoole’s Henry V moves to The Globe theatre in London on 7 June. I’m sure it will be highly rated.


Rebekah Brooks

Photograph: Carl Court/AFP c/o guardian.co.uk

Rebekah Brooks and husband Charlie

I am fascinated by Rebekah Brooks who was editor of the News of the World in 2000 and of The Sun in 2003 and who in 2009 became chief executive of News International which publishes The Sun and The Times. In those years I was having babies and bringing up young children in a country town. Brooks is, I think, three years older than me.

Brooks has had to give evidence to MPs about phone hacking and to the Leveson inquiry about her time at News International, her relationships with politicians of the day and meetings and social occasions she attended. Yesterday she, along with her husband and four others, was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, accused of removing documents from News International and concealing material from the Metropolitan Police who are investigating phone hacking claims.

Look at today’s newspaper headlines, neatly rounded up by Roy Greenslade and The Guardian.

It will now be for a jury to decide if Brooks is guilty of trying to cover anything up at her newspapers or if she is the victim, as she and her husband insist, of a witch hunt.

It is hard to see how an editor, even a former editor gone into management, would not know how certain stories in their own newspapers were stood up or proved to be true. But she and other senior folk from News Corp insist there is no evidence to suggest they knew about any malpractice.

Brooks is a striking figure who was very successful at a relatively young age within a controversial organisation, News International – part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. That has attracted as much jealousy and spite as admiration and this may now be manifesting itself as glee and determination from some quarters as people observe Brooks’ current predicament.

I understand from experience how important it is for a newspaper editor to have good relationships with the power brokers of the day. I also know what it is like to be courted by people in an industry, some in positions of power, others seeking power, when you edit an influential publication. And I know what it’s like when a journalist does something either deliberately or by mistake that someone else doesn’t like.

Libel law exists to try to police the difference between something that is untrue and will damage others by being published and something that is true and published in the public interest. Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry may change all that. Let us pass over thoughts about where the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to charge Mr and Mrs Brooks leaves David Cameron, supposedly a close friend of Charlie Brooks.

Largely I feel that in many cases, let’s say all but those involving murdered people, the journalist, editor or newspaper is just the messenger of a story and you know what they say about shooting messengers. Don’t do it.


Homeland. Good, wasn’t it?

Clare Danes in Homeland

Wow. I totally struck gold with that last post. I’ll admit I did no research before writing it and initially thought Channel 4’s bought-in US series Homeland was a two-parter. ROFL etc.

Yet here we are some 12 weeks later and the excellent series has just ended. Already I want to watch series two and am remembering why box sets after the event are a good idea. As the C4 continuity announcer said when the totally tense final episode of the first series ended last night, series two will appear on C4 sometime in the future. We don’t know when; it hasn’t even been made yet.

Why was Homeland such a hit? Because it didn’t strike any bum notes. On the relatively rare occasions that US drama producers make a good drama – when the drama is airing on a smallish cable network like Showtime and isn’t under pressure to get all schmaltzy – it is really good.

Our own Damian Lewis was excellent as the conflicted and last night very sweaty Sergeant Brody. Clare Danes was even better as the reasonably mad CIA agent Carrie living with bipolar disorder. More than Stephen Fry I suspect Danes will make forms of manic depression cool from now on, as in: “I’m just in my manic phase, it’ll pass.” [Cue insight of unimaginable profundity.]

Of course the nub of the series and of last night’s episode in particular was that there was method in Carrie’s madness. She did indeed crack the conundrum, she worked out the link between Brody and terrorist master Nazir just as she succumbed to anaesthesia and electro convulsive therapy which will wipe her short-term memory at the start of the second series.

I also loved Mandy Patinkin as Sol (that’s how all the characters pronounced his name, even if it’s meant to be spelled Saul). You had to feel for him last night, losing Carrie to ECT just as he lost his wife back to her native India earlier in the series. Like Toby Siegler in West Wing or Dr Green Bean in ER he’s the gruffly lovable, intellectual character totally wedded to his work and therefore unlucky in his private life.

Anyway, we got resolution in that mad Carrie did thwart a terrorist suicide bomber mission, even if she, the authorities and most of the people involved were unaware of the fact. Aside from some Mitchell and Webb-style camera work which could have been comic in other hands, scenes of Brody fiddling with his ball-bearing and explosive-loaded vest in the toilet of a secure bunker with half the US government a few feet away were tense indeed. My palms are sweating again as I think about it.

Great stuff. I now see why Lewis couldn’t say on Graham Norton’s UK chat show a few weeks back whether he would be in the second series or not. I hope he is, he’s brilliant in this part and a second series won’t typecast him forever. Just get on and make the thing.