*with apologies to "Reading Lolita in Teheran"
We found there was a group from the OUDS (Oxford University Dramatic Society**) was visiting Tbilisi, playing Henry V for 3 nights so a party was organised.
The place was packed, not a mobile rang (very unusual), nearly everyone came back after the interval. Full marks to the audience because conditions were not good. There was no airconditioning so it was like a Turkish bath inside. The acoustics were awful, the hall being rectangular (ie shaped for music not speech), and there seemed to be no programme. That made it really difficult to hear many of the actors, and unless you know a play really well, it helps to hear the words.
The Georgian audience had subtitles overhead (too far overhead to watch the stage and read) but there was a translation voiceover on earphones, which occasionally hissed and crackled so loud we could hear it too.
I realised I had never seen the Branagh film, or even seen the play, so I mugged up on the plot on the internet 5 minutes before I left. That didn't help much, as it was rather a cut down play, with a cast of about 10, alternately playing English and French, which must have dictated a few limitations.
Still we all cheered (inwardly) when we heard
Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more...
Cry "God for Harry! England and St George!"
Though perhaps it was a different St George for the audience, since St George is also the patron saint of Georgia and England and Georgia share the flag of red cross on white background.
By then it was clear that this was a play about war, about battles lost and won. A clever choice to bring to Tbilisi. But no parallels between Prince Hal and Saakashvili.
I was struck by the line
"no King of England was not King of France",
which carries no force today but at the time must have been a rousing cry in itself.
We all remarked that Putin should have been in the audience when King Harry gives no sympathy for Bardolph (an old friend) who is about to be executed for pillage, and explains how to treat the citizens of France:
We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we give express charge that in our marches through the country there be nothing compelled from the villages, nothing taken but paid for, none of the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language; for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.
But the end of the play showed the futility of war. Henry dies and his young wife is left with a baby. All lands in France are lost.
A lesson for both Putin and Saakashvili.
** the OUDS was the starting point for the career of many famous British actors