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As an O Level student I had to write an essay on the development of Prince Hal through Shakespeare's plays Henry IV parts one and two.  I had seen both plays when the RSC opened the Barbican Theatre with them with an incredible cast (Gerard Murphy as Hal, Patrick Stewart as Henry IV, Joss Ackland as Falstaff and Timothy Dalton as Hotspur to mention but a few) and had been entranced by the vivid characters and dramatic storytelling.  Then in 1984 I went to see Henry V at Stratford.  A young Adrian Noble was directing and an unknown RSC company actor called Kenneth Branagh was playing the king.

We saw the opening night in which there were a few mishaps.  Not least Henry getting the knee joint of his leg armour locked when he knelt to pray after Agincourt which meant he had to play the rest of the scene supported by Brian Blessed's giant Duke of Exeter!  (Several critics remarked on the brilliance of playing Henry so overcome by the victory that he could barely stand.)  Despite this, two things were evident that night: that one was watching the start of a meteoric career and that this was a truly great play.

The Henry trilogy is Shakespeare's masterpiece about the forging of British identity.  All human life is here in vivid technicolour warts and all from King to basest thief.  There is nothing perfect about Henry, his court or the actions he takes.  His decisions are political, his battles pragmatic.  Nor is he a man for whom kingship is easy.  His soul is troubled by the gulf between what he knows he must do and what he, and many others, might like to do.  These are messy plays in which there are no winners, no good guys, no moral high ground, no easy answers.

And this is, of course, why we come back to them time and time again.  They tell of a world we know all too well; a hard place where nothing is straightforward; where it is difficult to see which is the right path to take.  In this sort of world what we need, crave almost, is leadership.  Henry is a leader who boldly makes the decisions we don't want to have to make but where he succeeds where so many leaders have failed, is that he understands the hearts and minds of those he is leading and he manages to engage their support and take them with him.

So Henry V has extraordinary characters we can look up to.  What about the action - a lot of tramping about and fighting.  Why is that of any interest to us?

2004 is the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day. On it and the days following, hundreds of thousands of men landed in France and fought their way inland across some of the very fields which Henry and his men had crossed over 700 years earlier.  They were days packed with incredible acts of heroism, some of which have become the stuff of legend, many of which will never be known about. 

Is it the military efficiency of the victory which impresses us?  No.  The elements of D-Day which come up time and time again are not the months of meticulous preparation, the almost unopposed landing on some beaches, the smooth liaison between forces.  They are the cock-ups, the failures, the disasters, the miscalculations.  We have no interest in simple success.  We tend to find it rather unattractive as if an overwhelming victory is somehow unsporting.  There is drama in the gliders which crashed into trees in the wrong field in the middle of a crack Panzer division.  There is somehow less in the mission which goes like clockwork with no casualties.   

So why do we read Bravo Two Zero and watch Zulu or Apollo 13?  We have a natural fascination for watching what extreme adversity brings out in people.  Easy victory does not breed heroes.  We need heroes as much as we need leaders; role models to follow, figures to look up to.  The modern media tries to create them all the time in curiously flawed guises; Beckham, Henman, Rooney, Hussein.  But these are not heroes.  They are men with talent who have chosen to compete in difficult sports.  The heroes at Agincourt and on D-Day, were men who, thrust against impossible odds, showed incredible courage and resolve and through this triumphed.

I once met a Paratrooper who had been with Colonel H Jones in the Falklands.  He said that all heroes were either mad or dead or often, as in Colonel H Jones' case, both.  This is how disaster breeds heroes.  Facing death narrows your options; brings on a kind of madness - a madness to survive.  (Fire fighters on 9/11, Simon Weston, Shackleton.)  Perhaps the real challenge is to be a peacetime hero; a figure who is exemplary in the way they conduct themselves through the mundane challenges of everyday life.  On the eve of Agincourt, Henry tells his doomed men that they are all likely to die but that he can think of no better company in which to die.  Shortly after Tour de Force had first staged Henry V, the man who had played our giant Duke of Exeter, William Haden, told me he was going to die. It was in fact not until early this year that it happened and in the interim he acted in another of our productions, set up Shake-a-Leg and twice produced Tour de Force in Saffron Walden quite apart from living a life as husband, step-father and grandfather, friend and pint drinker. 

William, like the men in the play, was complex and contradictory, not pure or perfect, but he displayed heroism and leadership in just the unassuming way that Shakespeare's Henry does with one major difference; his battle was not over in a matter of mere hours.

Tour de Force would like to dedicate this production of Henry V to the friend they were honoured to be in the company of, William 'Mad Dog' Haden.

Joe Harmston , July 2004.