Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Titus Andronicus Blog Event at the RSC, 27th June 2013

This week, I was thrilled to be at the RSC for the Blog Titus event, and sat mesmerised as the players wove a blood-spattered tale from threads of revenge, duty, honour, terrorism, and - fascinatingly – high humour amidst hellish brutality. Afterwards at the Q&A, the genial, intelligent director Michael Fentiman talked easily about the development of the play. Though Titus was enormously popular in Shakespeare’s day - “a hit”, as he called it - it gradually fell out of favour, reaching a nadir in the Victorian era when it was rarely performed; and, to add insult to injury, for years the authorship and quality of writing were called into question, with some notable critics casting Titus out of the Shakespeare canon altogether. With the unprecedented brutality of the 20th century, however, Titus Andronicus became more accepted as it became more relevant. Key in this was the post war Olivier production of 1955, which reinstated the play among the first order of Shakespeare tragedies. In the midst of our 21st century wars on terror Titus now seems current, authoritative.  As Fentiman observed, every play has its day, and Titus, once so denigrated, now reads like a landmark movie script.  

The actress Katy Stephens talked incisively about her role as the captive Goth queen Tamora, suggesting that her cruel manoeuvrings were actually carefully plotted acts of resistance against her captors. At the beginning of the play, the victorious Titus Andronicus sacrifices Tamora’s eldest son, in spite of her pleas for clemency – an act reflected later in his own  daughter Lavinia’s desperate pleas for Tamora to put a stop to her impending rape. Tamora famously refuses and gives the go-ahead for her sons to proceed with the assault. This is revenge served cold – an act so shocking and politicised that Stephens characterised it as an act of terror. Chillingly, she conjectured that Tamora may also have been raped – possibly by Titus himself.  As I listened to the actress speak, I was doubly impressed with Shakespeare’s vision and humanity. Every year, untold numbers of women endure rape as an act of terror and revenge, but little is done to redress this. Through the disfigured, bloodied, Lavinia, and the radicalised, hate-filled Tamora, Shakespeare forces us to confront these issues head on. Here is a very modern morality play.

Titus’ daughter, Lavinia, is a difficult role to play, but Rose Reynolds performance powerfully captured the transformation from beautiful patrician virgin to dismembered, traumatised, wreck. In a wonderful insight into the acting process, Reynolds spoke last night about the techniques she used to portray the horror of her butchery – including lying on the ground and raising her straight legs above her shoulders so that the muscles spasmed, and she shook involuntarily. She used this muscle memory, shaking coldly throughout much of the performance. Reynolds also described a friend who had lost a finger, who experienced pain whenever she lowered her arm. Lavinia thus kept her hands raised when discovered by her uncle, Marcus – a posture so ugly, so awkward that it conveyed the roaring pain in her bloodied stumps. 

When asked what he thought were the lessons of the play, the Director, Michael Fentiman, mentioned the dehumanising effects of war, particularly on Titus Andronicus himself. Stephen Boxer, who played Titus with wit and depth, reflected upon the man, whose return to Rome – and expected retirement - exacerbated the brutalities of Roman politics. Boxer discussed how the escalation of his woes led eventually to his breakdown and transformation. When asked why he laughed in the most appalling of circumstances, Titus replies that he has no more tears to cry. Once Titus passes through this breaking point into something resembling madness, Stephen Boxer plays with the text to great comic effect. At one point he raised the plastic bags holding the heads of his sons, to listen to what they were saying. Explaining this grotesquery, Boxer smiled and said, “it is actually there in the text”. And yes, I suppose it is. With such humour, you are reminded of cinematic portrayals of walking wounded from 20th century wars, carrying their own limbs, laughing. Hell must be full of laughter.  

Not there for the Q and A sessions, unfortunately, was the wonderful Kevin Harvey, who played Aaron with authority and wit, suggesting again that his were acts of resistance, rather than evil. His Liverpudlian accent worked well in marking his difference from the patrician Rome in which he found himself.

Richard Durden was a masterful Marcus – genial, wise, realistic, disappointed. His key moment came on discovering the mutilated Lavinia. Marcus’ speech has frequently been cut, as many modern directors and critics found it flowery and inappropriate. As Director Michael Fentiman explained, however, the passage was kept in as the burbling mutterings of a man presented with something so shocking that no words are adequate. With the bloodied Lavinia at the front of the stage, staring incomprehendingly out at the audience, Marcus stood way behind her- one was thus transfixed by the trembling Lavinia, as the balmy words flowed over her.

Mention must also go to Ben Deery, who stepped into the role of the Emperor, Saturninus for the night, in a well judged, balanced, and at times hilarious performance. Perry Millward and Jonny Weldon were terrific as Tamora’s terrifying sons, Demetrius and Chiron – played with verve and gusto, rather like a demonic Ant and Dec. The appearance of them lurking on BMX bikes was a dark, threatening touch. 

Overall, then, a delightful evening. One I will never forget. Certain things will I know stick in my mind about this highly inventive and satisfying mash-up – the unexpected  invasion of the storm-troopers on the hunt, the thud of Titus’ sons’ heads being dropped on the floor, the utter sexiness of Tamora at the height of her powers, and the knife being wielded by Hal Hewetson as the Young Lucius.

Shocking? Yes. Brutal? Yes. But so is life out there in the real world. As Stephen Boxer concluded, Shakespeare, as always, holds a mirror up to us. And this time, in 2013, the vision is terrifying.

My thanks to Dean Asker and Amy Belson for organising this Blog event, and thanks to the Director and actors for giving such an interesting insight into the production of this unsettling play. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: Cat Power at the Roundhouse, London, 25th June 2013.

It must be difficult being Cat Power. Having made her name writing and performing fearless songs with depth, intelligence and soul, there's not much opportunity for levity at her gigs. The set list of a Cat Power concert resembles chapters in a Virginia Woolf novel, and while there is no doubting the brilliance and bravery of her output, it must be restricting, having to go onstage and bare her soul - again. No wonder she suffers from nerves. What happens if she is having a ciggy in the wings and is in a really, really good mood  - jolly, mischievous, hilarious - knowing that soon she has to flay herself, and the audience, with a song like "Bully"? Watching Cat Power's powerful, moving show last night, I was struck by the grooves (non musical) that artists dig for themselves by virtue of audience expectations of them and their material. What if Angus Young decided to dispense with the school uniform and play a depressive acoustic set based on his discovery of Kafka? What if Jonathan Richman decided he hated being winsome, and wanted to be all Death Metal. What if Cat Power wanted to stroll on stage whistling, and play some happy go lucky upbeat pop, like CSS?

Of course, that's not the point, is it? Nor is it fair to the artist that is Chan Marshall, who came on stage last night with a joss stick, and went straight into a brutal, pared down version of The Greatest, with full, blinding stage lights on the audience for much of it. You don't go to a Cat Power gig for light entertainment, and from the start this was hard core. Though she smiled last night, her performance was edgy, full of tics, uncertainties, hesitations. In the audience, as on stage, you could never really relax.

That's what makes Chan Marshall so compelling, and so important as an artist. Part of the discomfort of a Cat Power show is the contradiction between the content and expression of the performance, and the tight, bland strictures of a rock show. Here comes Cat - people whoop and whistle. She sings Cherokee, in a performance of such graceful beauty that it brings a tear to the eye. It finishes - people whoop and whistle. Even the architecture of the Roundhouse is inappropriate for a Cat Power gig. Half way though a searing version of  "Bully", I was was joined by two blokes from the bar at the back, who stood with their beers and laughed and joked all the way through it. I wanted to say something to them, but hey - they were at a rock gig, and surely there shouldn't be all these hurt silences when the murmur of the bar echoed around the hall. You don't get that problem with The Darkness.

That said, there were some upbeat moments, though, tinged with fragility. Manhattan saw Chan swaying and clapping, smiling as she sang. Not exactly Sweet Home Alabama, but the closest we got to a sing song. But that's OK. This is better than a rock gig - not a rock gig, but a thrilling, high wire performance.

As I walked to Chalk Farm tube later on, I reflected on what a huge star Cat Power is. She has sold out the huge Roundhouse twice, and can fill theaters around the world as long as she wants to turn up. This fame and acclaim is actually quite inspiring. Through not fitting in, not faking it, not compromising, Cat Power appeals to lots of people who also are unsatisfied with bland corporate mush that is modern music. In Cat Power we have something rare in popular culture. A serious artist.

Have a listen to Cat Power singing The Greatest:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Metempsychosis: Why Everybody Should Read Ulysses

Well, I did it. With increasing emotional intensity, I approached, and eventually reached, that final, climactic “yes”. I closed the book and laughed – what virtuosity, what verve. What to do now, having finished the greatest novel I ever read? I had been irresistibly pulled into the world of Ulysses, and I didn’t want to leave it.

A few months ago, I found myself in Waterstones, scanning the fiction section, looking for something new – something to surprise me. I reached Joyce, and sighed. I had tried Ulysses several times, but couldn’t get past the “scrupulous meanness” of style of the opening pages. I had difficulty getting through the mangled sentences, and visualising what was going on.  

For old time’s sake, I pulled out the thick Penguin book, and was immediately attracted to it. The Martello tower on the cover was familiar from my previous attempts, and the script above it was both known and unsettling: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead . . .”

I sat down and started reading, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead . . .” After ten minutes, I was still turning the pages . . and realised, with something of a shock, that rather than just browsing, I was now actually reading Ulysses. Rather than me choosing the book, it was as if the book had deemed me ready. I stood up, approached the counter and bought it for 9.99 GBP, and my life was changed forever.

The next couple of months – yes, it takes a long time to read – I spent in Bloomsday, 16th June 1904, and got to know Leopold and Molly Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, Gerty MacDowell and Blazes Boylan. Joyce’s avowed intention with Ulysses was to construct a day in the life of Dublin with such realism and detail that one could actually step into it. The addresses, locations, street names, shops, pubs are all real, as are many of the episodes and characters. For instance, the opening scene on top of the Martello tower, so opaque and unreal to some, is actually a faithful telling of Joyce’s difficult encounters with medical student, Oliver Gogarty. This tension between otherworldliness and brute fact is key to understanding the magic and struggles one encounters reading this book.

Whereas the story begins with Stephen Dedalus (the young Joyce), it centres on the fascinating Jewish advertising executive, Leopold Bloom. Indeed the text, though prima facie descriptive of the interweaving experiences of the younger and older men, is actually a phenomenology of the Lebenswelt (“life world”) of Bloom. This is more than mere description of Bloom’s inner states as he struggles through the day, but is an expression to the world of what it is to be human. Having come from a scientific background, Joyce was an avowed dualist – and this contradiction between unyielding circumstances and fragile, fluid, emotional living-from-minute-to-minute permeates the text.  Joyce’s faithfulness to the physical, commercial and political realities of Dublin on that day are celebrated every year when Ulysses fans flock to Dublin for Bloomsday to visit the various locations - Davy Byrne’s Pub, Sweny’s Chemist, 7 Eccles Street (RIP). Meanwhile, the book’s faithfulness to the experience of living in such circumstances is so unyielding, so honest that it can be unsettling – unearthing secrets and experiences within all of us that we might not want to countenance. Ulysses, however, presents such experiences to us in such a way that we not only enter Dublin, but we enter the fraught, intellectual and emotional psyche of Leopold Bloom – the occasional, and quickly repressed, broodings about the death of his son, and pangs about his wife having sex with Blazes Boylan that very afternoon. By the end of a day with Leopold Bloom we know the man in the round – his hopes, dreams, anxieties, opinions, nightmares and peccadillos – and we love him. At least I do. Leopold Bloom is not a fictional character, but a real person you get to know.

There are challenges in reading Ulysses, passages when one has to grit one’s teeth and make a real effort. Life is not always a breeze, and Joyce fully intended the reader to struggle through certain episodes, just as we do through life. I am culturally Anglo-Irish, with roots in Wexford, and I found this heritage helpful during the denser passages. One technique I quickly developed was to vocalise the text in an Irish accent –an appropriate method, as Joyce created Ulysses to be read and occasionally sung out loud. Doing not only brings the most difficult passages to life, but also - on some occasions – brings tears to one’s eyes.

Joyce was an accomplished musician, and weaved rhythms and melodies into his books. Notable is the haunting “Love’s Old Sweet Song” written by James Lynam Molloy, a piece to be sung by Molly Bloom on her forthcoming concert tour, and a leitmotif for Leopold’s complex feelings for his wife in spite of her infidelity. Anybody who has not heard Richard Tauber’s version of this song, should do so right now. It says more about the relationship between the Blooms than a thousand words – just as Joyce intended: 

While the most difficult sections of the book require some effort to get through, they invariably leave the reader enlightened and looking at the world in new ways. One such passage is the chapter Oxen of the Sun, which centres upon the drunken conversations in a maternity hospital waiting room during Mrs Purefoy’s difficult delivery. During this passage, the language of the text morphs from early English though key stages in its development up to the literary and commercial English of the early 20th century. Not an easy read. Indeed, rather like an anxious father to be, I paced up and down the room, book in hand, mouthing the text for hours on end. I can’t imagine getting through this chapter any other way. Eventually, however, the baby is born, as is the next chapter. Finishing Oxen of the Sun you get the same feeling as you do climbing a mountain, or hearing the last note of a Mahler symphony.

Much has been written about Molly Bloom’s soliloquy – deservedly so. Having been an object – of desire, abuse, reflection, regret, mockery – during the whole book, she finally gains a voice, as her husband descends into sleep after the day’s travails. Whereas it took us a whole day to get to know Leopold, we get to know Molly intimately within the first few lines of her monologue. We’re in bed with Molly Bloom. Indeed, as she speaks to herself, we become Molly Bloom. I hate to use the word literature here, as the passage is more significant than that. It is the closest one can get to being another person.

Joyce introduces a word early on in the breakfast discourse between Leopold and Molly – “metempsychosis”, the migration of the soul. This to me is the overall intention of the book. What Joyce has done here is to provide the infrastructure and the means for our own metempsychosis, from passive reader, to being – being – Leopold and Molly Bloom. Metempsychosis. The migration of the soul. There is no higher art than this.

Oh, did I mention the gags? It is also very very funny!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Wonderful movie that shows the desperate circumstances faced by women in developing countries. Superb performances by Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed. Based on Tess by Thomas Hardy, this is the story of a poor young woman in Rajasthan who meets a rich man, and experiences total dependency, humiliation and eventual ruin. Compelling stuff, and highly recommended.

. . and certain stars shot madly from their spheres . .


Monday, June 10, 2013

Album Review: CSS - Planta. Here Comes the Summer!

Summer of 2013 starts here. The great survivors of a decade of hard partying have defied the odds and produced a lively, shimmering album, destined to drift out from apartment windows and traffic jams on a hot summer days.  Aaah, the Summer of 13, with Lovefoxx singing “Ooooh, what’s your name?” Those were the days.

Planta is the first album after the departure of the talented song writer Adriano Cintra. Rather than imploding in the wake of this, as CSS were fully expected to do, the girls grit their teeth and carried on, just as New Order, AC/DC and Pink Floyd did after their own personnel crises. And, like these illustrious predecessors, they have emerged stronger and more focused for it. At their recent gig in Hoxton, Lovefoxxx appeared on stage in a massive butterfly-like outfit - a symbol of the band’s pupation and transformation into the upbeat, creative group of Brazilian women you see today.

In the absence of Cintra, the band recognised that they needed a catalyst in the studio, and TV On The Radio's David Sitek stepped in and let the girls run riot in his LA house. The resulting album is fizzing with ideas, daring rhythms and unexpected melodic ventures. Photos of the band’s sojourn at chez Sitek show the fun being had there, and this infuses the record.

The songs are worth going through individually:  

Honey. A melodic opener which strong vocal, with unmistakable similarities to the hard beats of fellow crisis-survivors, New Order. Indeed, this number could easily have been written and sung by Bernard Sumner. “I wonder when I am going to see you again.”  Pure 80s Mancunian new dance, with a Brazilian twist – what’s not to like here?

Into the Sun. The sound of summer – a song about new beginnings. Highly emotional and optimistic, with an ecstatic chorus. This could be a massive single. It’s certainly a massive song.

Girlfriend. CSS suddenly and expectedly turn into the Beatles, with Lovefoxxx even managing a Lennon-esque rasp – and the melody is pure Rubber Soul. Again, however, a twist. The stately and rather stern chorus suddenly gives way to a whimsical female internal dialogue a la Molly Bloom. One of the strongest tracks on the album.

Dynamite, is just that . . . a musical explosion of bass and Lovefoxxx  in extremis. I saw this performed live in London, and it blew the roof off. An instant classic, with echoes of the Stranglers and Siouxsie.

Sweet starts off as another techno number, early Human League. As the pulsating introduction goes on you expect Phil Oakey to come in . . . What is even better, however, is how  Lovefoxxx addresses us with sober and grandiloquent vocals. Not the fluffy delivery of old, but a newly mature and serious tone. A grower.

Too Hot. Just to show Lovefoxxx’s versatility, we go straight into a sweet evocation of teenage longing. Luiza Sá's and Carolina Parra’s inventive guitar and bass add a hard edge to this song - the view from a single girl’s bedroom.

Teenage Tiger Cat is a burlesque, joyous disco-fuelled pop song, with great rhythm and unusual supporting vocals, before a roller coaster of a chorus. Actually, it would be the perfect track for a funfair. Disco meets high rides in the future video?  Strong, creative stuff.

Frankie Goes to North Hollywood, is total surprise – a lament for an absent friend, with inventive rhythms and sad, nostalgic vocals. I can’t help thinking that this could be a peace offering for Adriano Cintra. After all the laughing they must have done together, you’d think . . . Is it?

The Hangout is perhaps my favourite track on the whole album –  one of those songs that seems to have been around forever, hanging in the air; waiting for somebody to catch and record it. So simple and melodic, with reggae beats and yearning keyboards from Ana Rezende. I saw the girls play this at the NME acoustic session, and it was perfect. This is an eternal - a campfire song, where people smile and snuggle up. Yummie.

The final song, Faith in Love is a real departure for CSS. Serious and communicating feelings of longing, sadness - of dawn, of being alive. Not the kind of thing one expects from the band, as the song lacks the playfulness of their more popular numbers, but it demonstrates how far they have come - and the potential they have. CSS still have surprises in store.

Overall, this is a must buy album. CSS are the real deal – a creative, daring and passionate group of artists, second to none at the moment. Ana Rezende, Luiza Sá and Carolina Parra are skilful, playful musicians who lay down intoxicating soundscapes for Lovefoxxx’s melodic musings. Together they have gone through crisis, and emerged stronger, more confident, more compelling. With a full American tour starting this week, you would not bet against CSS going massive this Summer.

For a fan like me, that would be something of a pity, as I love their intimate, spontaneous gigs and the fact that they are just under the radar. Of course, that is purely selfish of me, and I wish them all the success in the world. Having gone through so much, they deserve it.

Summer 2013 is going to be a scorcher.

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Shostakovich's 10th Symphony

This is stirring stuff. Composed around the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, this is a work about power, corruption and secrets. Firstly, a secret: Shostakovich craftily embedded the name of former female student, Elmira Nazirova, in the score. She obviously had had a profound effect on the Russian maestro, as the horn leitmotif "E La Mi Re A" surfaces strong feelings of longing and regret. Here was a love that dare not speak its name – so the 47 year old Dmitri locked it away in his music. Some boyfriend he would have been.

The music, however, is magnificent. The first movement is longer than whole symphonies by other great composers, and it transforms the listener to a world of seriousness, of great events, of emotional trauma.

For anybody frazzled by the ephemeral mediocrity of media today, a good antidote - and much needed reaffirmation of one’s humanity - can be found here in the 10th. The founder of the whole Communist steam train, Karl Marx, can be thanked for giving us the concept of "false consciousness" – the idea that economic and governmental systems, media outlets and marketing executives, continuously feed us trivial, meaningless pap, to sooth us and keep us from realising the structural/ political inequalities and injustices all around us. Shostakovich’s 10th punctures through this to conflate the political, individual and spiritual, leaving us looking again at our circumstances with saddened, but clarified, understanding.

Not for the faint of heart. Shostakovich means it, and faces reality square on. The reality of the Soviet Union in 1953 was a harsh, unforgiving place - full of secrets.

Have a listen:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Good-Morrow, by John Donne

WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean'd till then ?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly ?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den ?
'Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear ;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;
Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest ;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west ?
Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally ;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

Review: Globe on Screen: Henry V by William Shakespeare

I was the only person in the cinema last night. Just me and Shakespeare. Nobody else.

Walking into Screen 3 at the Piccadilly Circus Apollo, I entered an empty auditorium with a blank screen. Wrong place, I thought, and went straight back through the door to check the Screen number.

Ticket, Screen 3. Sign above the door, Screen, 3. I was in the right place.

I re-entered and picked a seat half way up and half way across, and waited, alone. This was more like Samuel Beckett than Shakespeare. Eventually, however, the lights dimmed, the screen burst into life and  . . . it was a trailer for the latest Romeo and Juliet blockbuster. Shakespeare utopia!

Eventually, the main event; and it started with a right crash, bang, wallop, as musicians circled the Chorus, played by actress Brid Brennan. Eventually, the belligerent banging ceased, and she approached the front of the stage to address the crowd. This is a crucial opening monologue: a post-modern apology for the limitations of the stage; an eloquent prolepsis, brilliantly written. Brid Brennan’s cheery delivery thus got us underway, and she popped up at key points throughout the proceedings to explain the various settings and locations.

Henry V is an exploration of one of Shakespeare’s favourite themes – leadership. However, unlike King Lear or Julius Caesar, which explore decline and fall, this is a story of a man’s ascent to greatness. It is also a story of personal transformation. In the Henry IV plays, the future Henry V features as a wanton wastrel, young Hal, who spends his time boozing with old reprobates at the Boar’s Head tavern. Misspent youth is actually an important motif throughout this play, referenced in the bawdy banter of his old drinking companions, Ancient Pistol, Bardolph and Nim. It also surfaces in frequent references to his tarnished reputation, and in the insult of a casket of tennis balls sent by the French Dauphin – the final straw that tips Anglo-Gallic tensions into all-out war.

However, as Henry V strides around the stage, we see a man already transformed into a King.  Jamie Parker’s portrayal is masterly, showing a man of great charisma, authority and emotional intelligence. The German sociologist Max Weber introduced the concept of “ideal type” – the defining distillation of a role or institution.  Jamie Parker’s Henry embodies such an ideal type – the very essence of effective Kingship.

For those unfamiliar with the play, the initial interactions between the reprobates at the Boar's Head can be confusing. The discourse is, however, highly amusing, and important in terms of the narrative; giving voice to the poor but spirited common man, who would rather spend his time in the pub, but is caught up in national mobilisation for a brutal war. During these early exchanges, Hal’s old mentor, Falstaff, dies unseen in the inn, so his young assistant joins the army too. Both innocence and experience are thus represented.  

So too are the different nations of the British Isles, through entertaining comic stereotypes. Of these, the main character is the patriotic Welshman, Fluellen (trans: Llewellyn), generously played by Brendan O’ Hea. While Shakespeare signifies ethnicity through rich stereotype, he also plays with and undermines such two dimensional characterisations. Thus, while we enjoy the politically incorrect gags, we come to like this well-meaning and competent soldier; an honourable and welcome counterfoil to the sleazy English thief, Ancient Pistol.

The French are also portrayed using stereotype, though it does not dominate our understanding of them. The Dauphin is played by Kurt Egyiawan, who accentuates the young man’s arrogance, and his ultimately fatal disregard for the English King and his people. David Hargreaves, as Charles VI, presents a fragile and anxious ruler who fully understands the threat to his crown and country.

As the play descends into butchery we witness a second transformation in Henry, from a thrusting, young warrior, revelling in the glory of war, to a seasoned, wiser leader, having been confronted with the carnage of this conflict. At the end of the battle of Agincourt, we see a chastened, more compassionate man. This personal transformation sets the scene for the final peace-brokering between England and France, and Henry’s difficult wooing of the lynchpin in this deal, the French princess, Catherine, delightfully played by Olivia Ross. The transformation from Hal the wastrel to Henry the international statesman is complete.

As an exposition of leadership, Henry V is a master-class. It shows how the greatest leaders combine a command of the dramatic, with focus, determination and drive. In this year of the death of Margaret Thatcher, and the sixth year of Obama’s presidency, Henry V is still very much the ideal type of leadership; widely emulated but inevitably unmatched. An ideal expounded, explored and ultimately undermined by Shakespeare.

As I left the auditorium, I looked around at all the empty seats – testimony to the hundreds of Londoners who could have been transformed by this compelling drama . . . but couldn’t be bothered. What if a brilliant leader emerged, and no one turned up to hear him speak?

Indeed, what is a leader without an audience?

You can see Henry V in cinemas around the world. To find a cinema screening, go to

A DVD of this performance in available later on this year.