Touched by Harry
On Sunday evening, if you watch Channel 4, you'll be able to experience what it's like to be a groundling at Shakespeare's Globe and see part of The Life of Henry the Fifth (as the programme authentically puts it). The one-hour programme contains a sizeable chunk of the play - Act 4 when Henry (Mark Rylance) wanders among his troops the night before Agincourt. The extract will give some of the flavour of this inaugural performance.
What the programme should reveal is how the simple, straw-covered, daylit stage makes heavy demands on the actors and the audience alike. Transforming the space into a battlefield or a royal court requires excellent verse-speaking and a leap of the imagination by a modern audience overly dependent on special effects.
Viewers will also see how if you go to Shakespeare's Globe, the view from the pit is much more involving than from the posh tiered seats around the "wooden O". (The producers sensibly chose to film at ground level.) There is a documentary element in the programme as well - interviews with the main players in the Globe's creation and in this production. These include Mark Rylance (whose workload as artistic director of the company as well as leading actor doesn't bear thinking about), Jenny Tiramani (who designed the whole production, including the highly authentic costumes, right down to the uncomfortable sounding Elizabethan-style underwear), and the director Richard Olivier.
The Globe is the touching and splendid creation of Sam Wanamaker, but he never saw it finished, so it is an emotional moment when his daughter Zoe speaks the prologue to the play and asks: Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did afright the air of Agincourt?
The players can and do cram that and much more magic into this new "wooden O". This programme catches some of it and should provide another incentive to go and see a tangible miracle.