William Shakespeare’s history play Henry V will run February 12 through April 9 at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) plays the lead role in this production, directed by Max Webster (Life of Pi), the Donmar’s Associate Director. An inexperienced new ruler, Henry has to prove he can guide England into war with France.
The Donmar cast also includes Jude Akuwudike, Seumas Begg, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Kate Duchêne, Olivier Huband, Anoushka Lucas, and Danny Kirrane, to name a few.
Kirrane plays Pistol and Westmoreland during this run, doubling on roles like many of his castmates. His theatre credits include Jerusalem (Royal Court Theatre), The Hunt, Vassa (Almeida Theatre), Gentleman (Arcola Theatre), We’re Staying Right Here (Park Theatre), As You Like It (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), A Little Hotel on the Side (Theatre Royal Bath), Three Sisters (Young Vic), Romeo and Juliet, Boys (Headlong Theatre) and The History Boys (National Theatre).
Kirrane and I met recently to discuss his career, his approach to Shakespeare’s text, and why he’s excited to be in a modern retelling of Henry V.
I noticed you were in Jerusalem. What was that like?
It was the world premiere at the Royal Court back in 2009. It was incredible. It was like being in a rock band! It was one of those shows that doesn’t come around very often. It had that chemistry that is not always easy to find.
Returning to the Bard
With your experience in other Shakespeare productions, what do you enjoy most with the texts?
Even though the plays are 400 years old, with the way you brush the dust off them, they’re quite psychologically amazing. There’s always a way to modernize the characters and see them with fresh eyes. They are so well written. There is so much depth in there. You can find things in there that might not necessarily be there on the surface. There’s skill involved in making it sound like it was written the night before the show. I like the challenge in that.
Is this your first time performing at the Donmar?
Yes, it’s exciting!
Have you worked with any cast members or creatives from this production before?
I’ve worked with Max Webster, our director.
What do you like about his style?
I did another Shakespeare with Max, As You Like It. What I like about Max is that he’s very open with me and actors in general, to come up with new ideas for playing scenes. He’s very honest, but he’s also kind. He allows me to think outside the box and be creative to find things that I don’t think anyone else would try. You don’t always have that.
Finding the Gems in Pistol and Westmoreland
Pistol and Westmoreland are characters that appear in a few of Shakespeare’s history plays. How do you take into account where they are in their arcs?
Pistol especially is quite a famous Shakespearean character. He appears in Henry IV Parts I and II and in The Merry Wives of Windsor. There’s a lot of history there to plug into. In this production, we try to find a way of showing the heart that’s in him. When you see Pistol on stage, he can be silly and frivolous. We’ve tried to make him – not serious – but now like he’s got a bit of a soul.
Westmoreland is a cousin to Henry. It’s a challenge to play two characters that are completely different from each other. The hardest thing about the play is that many of us are doubling. When we get into tech, we’ll have lots of quick changes.
Is it nice as an actor to balance that in your performance, where one is comedic and another is more serious?
It’s lovely. I like changing that as well. I always think sometimes when you’re playing characters that are comedic on the surface, that you have to play them more serious in order for it to work. Sometimes on the more serious characters, you have find the fun in them. If you come at different angles, you can open up new things in characters that might not always be there in the script.
What can you tell us about rehearsals?
Rehearsals have been intense. We’ve got a military advisor in. We do a military drill every morning! We’re all a little bit stiff with aches and pains. That’s been quite fun. Obviously because of the pandemic, a lot of people have not done theatre anywhere. Lots of people have done film and TV. Not many of us have done plays, so it’s amazing to work with a group of actors in a room again and play. It’s been a joy.
What can Donmar audiences look forward to when the show opens?
This production is thrilling! Some of the movement in it is fantastic. The music is mind-blowing. It’s got a real energy. In a theatre like the Donmar, which is small, the show really taps into what it’s like for the characters to be at war. You get to see their psychology like no other production before.
For more information about ‘Henry V’, visit the Donmar’s website. Starting on February 7, a small number of additional tickets will be released online every day at 10 a.m. GMT.