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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

Theatre Delicatessen present

 

Henry V

 

Photo by Lorna Palmer

 

by William Shakespeare

Director: Roland Smith

Designer: Katharine Heath

Lighting Designer: William Heath

Sound designer and Production manager: Fergus Waldron

Producer: Rowan Rutter

 

Marylebone Gardens

 
22 May to 30 June

 

This performance begins the moment you take your ticket and are marched through soldiers’ living quarters to an incredibly detailed, overwhelming set, designed by Katharine Heath. In underground army barracks forged in what was previously BBC office space the audience slot into the scene in a very unconventional way, propped on bunks, seated at the mess table and gathered up in sandbags, promised from their various vantage points a very new perspective on this solemn staple of Shakespeare’s canon. Wearing army print trousers, shirts and heavy boots, soldiers mill around the bunker amongst the audience making hurried plans and letting loose. When Chorus (Alexander Guiney) interrupts the revelry to begin, attention is caught and held taut, passed from character to character throughout this epic drama. The action takes us to France, via Northampton and an uncovered treason plot and through the action surrounding the battle of Agincourt.

For what is surely one of Shakespeare’s most serious plays his trickery and jesting is made the most of in this production. A briefcase full of tennis balls delivered from France sets Henry (Philip Desmeules) on a path of angry discourse which is rendered with such heart that every word is believed.  Consistently, his speeches are rousing and moving and a spirited response from the colleagues and soldiers he addresses help elevate them to an epic scale. Desmeules carries the part of Henry with confidence and vigour which seeps through his entire performance to render a formidable and admirable leader, a sense which culminates in his wooing of Katherine of France in the final scenes.  

The Duke of Exeter is excellently characterised as warm, generous and exceptionally loyal by Tom Daplyn. The scale of ability displayed by the ensemble is breathtaking and the fact that such a strong and versatile cast all grace this one production is miraculous. Liam Smith plays Pistol, a treacherous English rogue who tags along to France for the glory he might lay claim to and the fortunes he might pilfer. On the other hand, and with equivalent ease, he also plays King Charles VI of France, shrewd, proud and of entirely different deportment. In the same vein, Laura Martin-Simpson is a serious and sober Gloucester and a playful, engaging Katharine of France, the object of Henry’s affections and central to the most outwardly comic scene in the play when Alice (Jessica Guise), her gentlewoman, attempts to teach her English to hilarious effect.

Exploding shells, gunfire and rain pound down on the bunker in which the medics, and the audience, wait for the dead and injured once the battle commences. Church choir music haunts proceedings, penetrating the expectant atmosphere. Lighting fades in and out allowing for swift scene changes. Legends of the past prove a constant motivation; in particular the memory of Edward, Black Prince of Wales, is roused to invoke fear and vehemence. Familial connections, status and breeding are also of paramount import in relations and much is made of the contrast between Henry walking amongst his soldiers on the eve of battle and the French concern at noble and peasant blood mingling in the fields.

At the end of the play the dynamic twists entirely as the characters re-emerge slick and suited for the final treaty to be signed and sealed, flanking Henry V and Charles VI. Emerging from the barracks after two and a half consuming hours it is difficult to envision that the “imaginary forces” Shakespeare’s script appeals to in order to invoke the fields of France have ever been so well stimulated by any other production of Henry V.

 

Photo by Lorna Palmer

 

http://theatre-delicatessen.makemoredigital.com/
Tickets: £10 | £16
Marylebone Gardens
35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QA

 

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