Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, Tower Street, York, in rep until August 31. Box office: 01904 623568 or 0844 847 2483 or at

PURELY by coincidence, but apposite all the same, the Boris versus Boring hustings show set up camp at York Barbican on the press day for Henry V.

A simultaneous chance to consider Britain, Europe, future relationships, nationality and leadership qualities in two places at once.

While the magniloquent Johnson aspires to rouse the masses like Harry in full “Once more unto the breach” flow, for Hunt, it is a breach too far.

Meanwhile, in season two of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions’ pop-up Shakespeare theatre experience on a corner of a temporarily taken Castle car park, the history play for the summer is the stirring tale of Harry (of Monmouth), England and Saint George, whose flag covers the stage from top to tail, billowing in the afternoon winds.

Enter the company, “the chorus to this history” in jeans, zip tops, T-shirts; the Archbishop of Canterbury with a briefcase; the court in suits; soldiers in combat gear. Ah, a modern-day production.

York Press:

Horatio? No Henry V, as Maggie Bain's King returns in Nelson mode

Then on comes Henry V, or, rather, in spins Henry V, spun over the chorus’s shoulders, wearing crown, tabard, boots, the Henry V of the 15th century.

And this Henry V is played by Maggie Bain, a woman, but not playing Henry as Henrietta, but Henry, judged by director Gemma Fairlie as the best person for the role, man or woman.

Hair boyishly cropped, voice full of sinew, shoulders back, stride purposeful, Bain’s Henry has the rallying demeanour, the sense of authority, while bearing the weight of responsibility when leading an outnumbered nation against the cock-crowing French, more of which later.

Should you be wondering why Bain’s Henry is dressed out of period with all those around the king, later Henry is re-dressed in mid-air by the chorus as Nelson, and later still as if leading troops in the fields of France in the First World War: the point being that we are forever destined to return to war, whatever our temporary triumphs. Is it too far to push the thought that Brexit corresponds to another war with European counterparts?

The English here are represented in football-chanting tribal mode, typified by Richie Daysh’s trigger-snappy London spiv, Pistol.

The game’s afoot, and it’s hand claps, “Eng-er-land” and 1970's Back Home chart topper from the Mexico World Cup.

York Press:

COMBAT ZONE: Maggie Bain's Henry V goes to war

And what of the French? Fairlie and costume designer Adrian Linford have turned them into dandies and fops, wearing sharp suits, shades, shoes without socks, bling; the ladies of leisure playing tennis with blue balls, while discussing English terms for body parts en Francais. Some accents are exaggerated, comedic, to the point of being closer to Officer Crabtree than René Artois.

The intention is surely to mock Brexit myopia, to the point that you may well find yourself laughing with the French sneering of British characteristics.

Both Raphael Bushay’s Montjoy, the fashion-conscious herald, and Sam Callis’s Charles VI rise above the caricatures around them, however.

Henry V is an uneven play, gravely serious yet tartly humorous, briefly sentimental too, breaking off for an indulgent tribute to Shakespeare’s greatest hit from past history plays, Falstaff, and later bizarrely jolting the rhythm of the climactic battle scenes for a disputatious discourse on the merits of the leek in the English versus Welsh clash of Pistol and Amy Loughton’s Fluellen.

Fight director Philip d’Orleans brings choreographed clout and gravitas to the fight scenes, Eamonn O’Dwyer’s music is constantly apt.

And what of Bain’s Henry? Serious, decisive, but always listening to the winds of change, and at the finale, silver-tongued in wooing a French bride: Fairlie and squarely, the winner at the end after this wild and wilful, up and down production.

Charles Hutchinson