Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 09!

British actor Tom Hiddleston is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 09!

The theme is “Shakespeare at the Cinema”, and the issue sees us review the screenings of both Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

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We also look at Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard’s epic new film of Macbeth, while the Horrible Histories crew chat about their brilliant Shakespeare comedy film Bill.

Also this issue, we interview James Shapiro, author of 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear; and Paul Edmondson, author of Shakespeare: Ideas in Profile.

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There’s also a colourful taste of the glorious poster art from new book Presenting Shakespeare.

Not forgetting a profile of Tom Hiddleston’s Shakespearean career so far…

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As always, you can read Shakespeare Magazine completely free!

Go here to enjoy Shakespeare Magazine 09.

Fifty miles north of New York City, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival playfully subverted audiences’ expectations with a radical rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

[Images of Hudson Valley Shakespeare by T. Charles Erickson. Other images by Emily Finch]

The scene was reminiscent of Georges Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Families, couples, friends sprawled on the lawn of the historical Boscobel estate, accompanied by wicker baskets, wine glasses and cheese boards.

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This loyal crowd of patrons arrived early to enjoy the view of the river before an evening of theatre at the respected Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Excitement about the sold out performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream buzzed as everyone packed up their blankets and headed towards their seats under the tent’s canopy.

And yet, despite such a positive beginning, many audience members became disenchanted by the production. Disenchanted enough, in fact, to bale out in the middle of it. About 20 percent of the seats were empty at the actors’ final bow.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream usually promises a fun, crowd-pleasing evening – what made the audience walk out? Well, very little about this production felt normal. Where so many Shakespeare productions attempt to rationalise everything – to answer every possible question an audience member might have – this production consistently resisted the urge to simplify and clarify, and instead said, “Why not?”

Why not have Bottom and Puck be played by the same actor?
Why not let Demetrius speak Spanglish?
Why not use five actors for all 20 parts?
According to actor Mark Bedard, these choices came out of rehearsals where director Eric Tucker constantly challenged his players, saying: “We could do the scene that way, the expected way. Or we could find a different way, a harder way.”

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The lack of scenery, props or elaborate costumes placed the responsibility for the success (or failure) of the play squarely on the actors – the aforementioned Mark Bedard, along with Sean McNall, Joey Parsons, Jason O’Connell and Nance Williamson.

As HVSF artistic director Davis McCallum put it, limiting the cast to five actors forced “radical creativity” on behalf of the performers and director to overcome the obstacles, the least of which being the numerous scenes with six or more characters.

The end result was a fresh and raucously hilarious interpretation of this most frequently performed of comedies. Those looking for an evening of conventional theatre were sorely disappointed. The rest of us were beside ourselves with mirth.

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“This isn’t Shakespeare that’s over people’s head,” McNall says. “It’s Shakespeare between their legs.”
Of course, the actors cannot help but notice the depleted audience as the evening unfolds.
“Sometimes, it is a little hard,” Parsons concedes, “to walk on in the second act and see an entire row gone.”

For Williamson, the polarity of reactions validates the unconventional choices. “It’s exciting when you don’t have just a wave of love every single night,” she says. “That’s theatre. The job is not to please everybody.”

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As hard as it is for the players to witness their patrons walking out, it must be said that the majority of the audience remain completely enthralled by the performance.

“We’ll have audiences that are really quiet, and obviously not happy,” says Bedard, “and then we’ll have audiences where it’s like a rock concert.”
Apart from the interpretive casting decisions, the open-air location lends a special life to the productions.

“Boscobel has this beautiful backdrop that makes the play have a lifted grace that it sometimes doesn’t have inside,” explains Williamson.
“The plays can never get stale out here,” adds O’Connell. “Every performance is wildly different just based upon the variables of the time of summer or what’s going on in the air.”

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For McCallum’s first full season as artistic director, he chose plays that would connect the audience with the production through the power of storytelling. “A group of people are gathering,” he says, “in this really unique spot, under this canopy, to be told a story.”

For the past 29 years, HVSF has been sharing stories with roughly 40,000 patrons each summer, along with thousands more through continuous educational outreach. For a summer festival with only five year-round staff members, those numbers prove this company is doing something right, something beyond being an idealistic picnic destination.

“For the sake of our artistic health, we want to do a wide range of things,” says McCallum. “Not just summer Shakespeare comedies.”

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Preparing for the Festival’s 30th anniversary next summer, McCallum plans to continue subverting expectations, delivering entertaining art that challenges as well, putting the little town of Garrison on the theatrical map.

“Our vision for the theatre is that it can be a real destination for audience members,” he says. “Not just from New York City, but from further afield.”

The five-person production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream played at New York City’s Pearl Theatre until 31 October.

Go here for more on Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Book your seat for the UK and US cinema screenings of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, starring stage legends Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench

[Images by Johan Persson. Dench Portrait: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company]

Captured live from London’s famed Garrick Theatre, this prestigious production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is being broadcast to cinemas across the globe.

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For many of us, it will be the only chance we get to see two living Shakespeare legends – Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh (who also directs).

Stanley Wells, Shakespeare expert and author of Great Shakespeare Actors, recently tweeted: “For an object lesson in speaking Shakespeare’s verse, hear Judi Dench as Time in The Winter’s Tale”.

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For UK screenings of The Winter’s Tale, on Thursday 26 November, go here to find a cinema near you and book tickets.

For screenings in the USA on Monday 30 November, go here to find a cinema near you and book tickets.

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Apart from Kenneth Branagh as Leontes and Judi Dench as Paulina and Time, The Winter’s Tale also stars Tom Bateman as Florizel, Jessie Buckley as Perdita, Hadley Fraser as Polixenes and Miranda Raison as Hermione.

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And the talented supporting cast includes stage veterans John Shrapnel and Michael Pennington. John Dagleish and Zoe Rainey also feature.

Go here for more on Branagh Theatre Company and The Winter’s Tale.

Last month saw the launch of Shakespeare By Design’s new jewellery collection The Noble Fool at The Arter in Stratford-upon-Avon

[Images by Julia Skupny]

Inspired by Touchstone from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, The Noble Fool is a new handmade collection from Shakespeare By Design.

Little Fool necklace in sterling silver

Little Fool necklace in sterling silver

Jewellery designer Jane Nead has meticulously researched all aspects of As You Like It, from Shakespeare’s source material to the play itself and the costumes used in modern productions. The attention to every detail is apparent in each piece of jewellery.

Little Fool stud earrings

Little Fool stud earrings

“Early in my research,” says Jane, “I discovered that Shakespeare wrote the character for Robert Armin, a member of his company who was also a Goldsmith. Touchstone always ‘tells it like it is’ in the play – he is the measure of all things, exposing counterfeit and falsehood, much like a real touchstone, which is used to test precious metals.”

The signature pieces with a genuine touchstone

The signature pieces with a genuine touchstone

The Noble Fool range consists of necklaces, bracelets and earrings, including the ‘Little Fool’ collection, based on the statue of Touchstone in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Touchflower and Little Fool necklaces

Touchflower and Little Fool necklaces

The collection’s signature piece is a two-necklace set that consists of an intricately designed pendant box. This represents Touchstone stepping out of his court persona. The beautiful piece also contains a fragment of genuine touchstone as used by jewellers.

Large diamond pendant

Large diamond pendant

The second necklace is of a Touchflower, inspired by the Forest of Arden. It’s every bit as delicate as the first piece, with each petal of the flower containing a touch needle that works alongside the touchstone.

Large Touchflower pendant

Large Touchflower pendant

The Noble Fool range is available in sterling silver, 22K gold and 18K rose gold plating. The range is exclusive to The Arter, a hidden treasure of a gift shop.

Specialising in handmade designs, The Arter is based in Hall’s Croft, the former home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna.

Go here to find out more about Jane Nead and Shakespeare By Design.

Shakespeare By Design on Facebook.

We love the richly symbolic new 2016 Shakespeare coins from the Royal Mint – but are they actually committing an act of treason against the Queen?

Shakespeare fans who are also numismatists are giddy with glee at the 2016 William Shakespeare £2 coins issued by the Royal Mint.

The three coins celebrate Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies.
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The ‘Comedies’ coin is conventional enough, depicting a Shakespearean jester or Fool.
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But the ‘Histories’ coin has rather more powerful imagery. It depicts Shakespeare’s “Hollow Crown” pierced by a short sword or dagger.
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As the coin’s other side features our present Queen, sharp-eyed commentators have wondered if this could be interpreted as being disrespectful – potentially even treasonous – towards the monarch?

My interpretation is that the Hollow Crown symbol accurately represents the overriding theme of Shakespeare’s Histories – the legitimacy of rulers and the fate of those who usurp the throne.

So, when we turn over the ‘Histories’ coin we find Queen Elizabeth II. The crown is no longer hollow – it’s worn by the longest-reigning monarch in English history, and the namesake of Shakespeare’s Queen (Elizabeth I) as well.

If possible, the ‘Tragedies’ coin is even more striking – disturbing, even. It features a very gothic-looking Skull-and-Rose motif.
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I’m intrigued to know if this is the first time a skull has appeared on a British coin?

The message of this coin is clear: it’s about death. And when we flip the coin over, we once again find the Queen’s head, and the inescapable thought that one day her reign will come to an end.

Reinforcing this notion, we’ve noticed that if you place the upper half of the ‘Histories’ coin upon the lower half of the ‘Tragedies’ coin, what results is a very sinister image of a skull apparently wearing a crown.
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In Shakespeare’s time it was considered treason to speculate about the death of the monarch – and we all know what the penalty was for treason.

But I think what the ‘Tragedies’ coin is saying is that, like Shakespeare himself, Queen Elizabeth II will live on – in artefacts like the coin itself, and in the memories of those who lived through her reign.

To quote the famous couplet from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

You can order the Shakespeare Coins direct from the Royal Mint.

A new book demonstrates that the legendary ‘curse of Macbeth’ – as depicted in BBC2 TV drama The Dresser – is in fact a relatively modern invention

Watching the excellent adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play The Dresser on BBC2, there were many moments that tickled our Shakespearean tastebuds.

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Not least of these was when ‘Sir’ (Anthony Hopkins) inadvertently says “Macbeth” in the theatre, and a panic-stricken Norman (Ian McKellen) has to lead him through a strange theatrical ritual to negate the resulting ‘curse’.

The Dresser
Interestingly, a new book, Anecdotal Shakespeare by Paul Menzer, suggests that the infamous “curse of Macbeth” that has supposedly plagued theatres for 400 years is in fact an invented tradition – with no records of it ever being mentioned earlier than 1937!

As The Dresser is set circa 1940, however, that would make it just about historically accurate to include the so-called curse of The Scottish Play.

The Dresser
On the other hand, this vintage clip from the BBC’s Blackadder, which is set in the 18th century, although utterly hilarious, would seem to be somewhat lacking in historical verisimilitude.

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But then, as Shakespeare might have said, why let the facts get in the way of a good story – or, indeed, a great gag?

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Anecdotal Shakespeare
is out now, published by Arden Shakespeare/Bloomsbury.

(Thank you to reader Gordon Kerry for sending us the Blackadder link)

Actress Sarah Peachey has a mouth-watering sideline as a gifted and inventive baker… So we asked her to cook up her essential guide to delicious and eye-catching Shakespeare Cakes!

As an actress with a special interest in Shakespearean performance, bringing the Bard’s rich language and powerful imagery to life is a wonderful challenge. And doing it with cake? Even more so.
Just like the bright-eyed contestants on The Great British Bake Off, I learned to bake at home. I love the smile on someone’s face as they delight in seeing a cake made just for them. After all, good cake, sweet cake, hath no fellow.
I also love the chance to challenge myself with new designs, so cakes that take their inspiration from Shakespeare combine two of my favourite things.
and so, in true GBBO style, let me show you my bakes!

The Signatures…

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This Midsummer Night’s Dream-inspired cake is a take on a classic lemon sponge. The decoration involves a variety of techniques, all representing key imagery from the play.

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“Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower, Before, milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness.”

The iconic flower, cut from sugarpaste and finished with edible glitter.

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“Master Cobweb” represented by a spun sugar nest.

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“Hoary-headed frosts” represented by sugarpaste snowflakes finished with lustre dust.

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“An ass’s nole I fixed on his head” – Bottom’s transformation moulded from chocolate sugarpaste.

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“Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania”. Setting the scene with a hand-painted night sky.

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This Ruff Cake was created for repertory theatre company The Merely Players’ end of season show. The brief was to incorporate all the shows from their 2014 season, whilst complementing their “no frills” approach to performing Shakespeare. I created a simple, monochrome ruff from pleated sugarpaste, finished with hand-painted writing to suit their stripped-back style.

The Technicals

Last year, I made two cakes for immersive theatre company RIFT, for their overnight production of Macbeth. RIFT’s designer Jasper Sutherland created two designs for the show.

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The first of Sutherland’s artworks was based on Lady Macbeth.

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The blood-red “Out, damned spot!” circles were cut from sugarpaste and the water that could not “wash this filthy witness from your hand” was created using a watercolour paint effect.

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The design for RIFT’s wrap party cake was based on Sutherland’s Macbeth artwork. I used the three-headed design to create a perspective three-tiered cake. Each layer offered a different flavour for the cast to choose from – rich chocolate, vanilla Madeira and red velvet.

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From the side, the tiers featured show dates and the RIFT logo.

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From above, the tiers aligned to create the image in Sutherland’s design. The shape was achieved by carving the sponge around a template and hand-painting the design onto the icing using a stipple technique.

The Showstopper

To celebrate the Bard’s 451st Birthday on 23 April (the same day our very own Shakespeare Magazine had its first anniversary), I had the pleasure of creating the ultimate Shakespeare Showstopper… The Globe Theatre!
The cake is constructed from two stacked sponges, carved to form the famous “Wooden O” of the theatre. I chose carrot cake as it’s very moist, but strong and earthy, suiting The Globe’s natural materials. Creating these cakes involved peeling and grating 2Kg of carrots!

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The whole thing is covered in sugarpaste and hand painted, with the tiered galleries on the inside and the exposed wooden beams and shutters on the outside. The texture of the thatched roof was achieved using a patterned roller and hand painted. The stage is also edible, with the roof supported by wooden dowels.

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After many hours of construction, I was delighted to hand it over to the staff at The Globe on the day of their birthday celebrations for the Bard. As a thank you, they kindly took me up to the roof for an incredibly special photo opportunity – my model cake next to its full-size counterpart!

Has Sarah has whetted your appetite for show-stopping bespoke cakes?
Go here to find out more about her company Mama Peach & Me.

Find Mama Peach & Me on Facebook.

Charles Edwards plays the unfortunate king in a glittering yet thought-provoking Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe

[Images by Johann Persson for shakespeare’s Globe]

Simon Godwin’s sumptuous production begins with the golden coronation of a boy-king, the future Richard II, the coronation reminding us of the fragile nature of power in a world of court theatrics.

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Richard II (Charles Edwards) is noble yet also delightfully petulant, a contrast to the masculine, clad-in-black Henry Bolingbroke (David Sturzaker). But the production does not hinge on facile oppositions, instead it emphasises the complexity of royal politics. And in the gage throwing scene the ridiculous nature of court factions comes alive, with gloves flying on and off stage.

William Gaunt is a tour-de-force as the ageing John of Gaunt, and Richard’s cruel reaction to his impassioned dying speech is beautifully executed. Richard’s flippancy fades into despair as he loses his hold on power to an ambitious Bolingbroke.

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Anneika Rose plays Queen Isabel with energy. However, the director leaves the ambiguities of her marriage to Richard largely unexplored, opting instead for conventional shows of conjugal tenderness.

The final imprisonment scenes are tastefully done, and Richard is presented with the same wooden horse he held in his boy-coronation. His pathetic reaction to this old toy is particularly poignant.

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The Globe’s thrust stage makes for an intimate proximity with the actors during many of the ‘high’ scenes. The set design by Paul Wills, incorporating the standards of Richard II and Bolingbroke, is evocative of the deeply visual aspect of medieval power. The music, composed by Stephen Warbeck, is also fittingly stately and regal.

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Despite these courtly elements the production also underlines the play’s human aspects, full of foibles and folly. The comic scenes in the garden add warmth, the actors utilising their proximity to the groundlings. Delighting the audience at the end, William Chubb and Sarah Woodward, as the Duke and Duchess of York, make much of their ridiculous pleading for their son, the Duke of Aumerle (Graham Butler).

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As we walked away from the Globe, stepping over the golden confetti strewn on the ground, we realised with surprise that Shakespeare’s words still resonated with us today in their exploration of nationality and identity.

Richard II was staged at Shakespeare’s Globe, London from 11 July – 18 October 2015.

In-demand Shakespeare tour guide and popular Shakespeare Magazine contributor Zoe Bramley tells us about her new book, suitably-titled “The Shakespeare Trail”

The Shakespeare Trail began life as a guided walk through the City of London. Each Saturday afternoon I would lead a small group of curious Bard lovers through the winding alleyways of the ancient Square Mile as we went in search of Shakespeare’s London.

The Guildhall, London, where Shakespeare’s kinsman Edward Arden was placed on trial

The Guildhall, London, where Shakespeare’s kinsman Edward Arden was placed on trial

“I had numerous emails from people who were unable to attend for reasons of geography so I decided to write the walk down. I emailed my idea to Amberley Publishing, not expecting much joy – after all, we all know how impossible it is to get published, right? Wrong!

The site of “The Theatre” in London’s Shoreditch (the graffiti is misleading, as it wasn’t called The Globe)

The site of “The Theatre” in London’s Shoreditch (the graffiti is misleading, as it wasn’t called The Globe)

“Three weeks later I received a cautiously interested email from one of the editors. They wanted me to expand the book; maybe to include the whole of Shakespeare’s England. After some toing and froing by email, I had a contract.

Hamlet statue at the Gower Memorial, Stratford-upon-Avon

Hamlet statue at the Gower Memorial, Stratford-upon-Avon

“Then the really hard work started. The next eight months were spent dashing around the country on research trips to stately homes, castles, churches, and theatres. I seemed to be spending an awful lot of time in various libraries, devouring obscure local history books and learning about Shakespeare’s connections with places I had never dreamed of.

The College of Arms, London – Shakespeare would have applied for his coat of arms at an earlier version of this building

The College of Arms, London – Shakespeare would have applied for his coat of arms at an earlier version of this building

“From Dover to Northumberland, it was a journey of real discovery and surprises, giving me a deeper understanding of our favourite playwright. I hope you will enjoy following the Shakespeare Trail as much as I did. And for any budding authors and historians out there, don’t be afraid to submit your idea to Amberley. They are very approachable and always open to ideas. Go for it!”

FCP Shakespeare Trail
The Shakespeare Trail: A Journey into Shakespeare’s England
is out now.
Go here to order The Shakespeare Trail from Amazon UK.

Go here to find out more about Amberley Publishing.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Gregory Doran completes his ambitious ‘King and Country’ tetralogy with rising star Alex Hassell in the title role of Henry V

[Images by Keith Pattison for the RSC]

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With the 600th anniversary of Agincourt on 25 October, Doran’s production of Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a standout tribute to both Shakespeare and the battle that helped define British history.

Returning to the role he so effortlessly made his own (opposite Antony Sher’s Falstaff) in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Alex Hassell is undoubtedly the star of the show.

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By the time he’s reciting the legendary St Crispin’s Day speech, Hassell deploys Shakespeare’s words so powerfully that the audience is ready to leap up and follow him into battle.

Hassell also brings some comedy to role of the English king who has left his notoriously misspent youth behind him.

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A particular highlight is the meeting of Henry and the French princess, Katherine, played by Jennifer Kirby. Hassell plays the scene as a Hugh Grant-type character as he petitions his prospective wife to love him whilst overcoming a language barrier.

Alex Hassell is definitely an actor to keep a close eye on as he progresses through his Shakespearean career.

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Other performances that stand out include Oliver Ford Davies as the cardigan-wearing Chorus, Antony Byrne as the fiery Pistol and Jane Lapotaire as Queen Isobel.

Despite Lapotaire only appearing in Act V, her presence is spellbinding and it’s a pleasure to witness her commanding the stage.

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The entire production was captivating from start to finish, and certainly a strong ending to the RSC’s run of history plays over the last couple of years.

Henry V will transfer to London’s Barbican Theatre in November before moving the New York in April 2016.

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Go here to book tickets for Henry V at the Barbican.