THE ALL-MALE Propeller Shakespearean company’s production of Henry V is a stunning visual, aural and emotional experience.
At the Theatre Royal, Brighton’s first night, we were jolted out of our November gloom and plunged into the terror and disorientation of a medieval battlefield awash with quarts and gobbets of blood.
Although the audience was looking and feeling, Propeller’s staging of perhaps the most famous historical play in the English language focused strongly on listening to words.
Henry’s iconic speeches – the siege of Harfleur, the night before Agincourt - made you wonder whether national characteristics manifest themselves in the leaders we choose; charisma (Obama, Guevara;) grandiosity (Mussolini, Berlusconi;) physical toughness (Putin,) gravitas (Merkel) or the ability to inspire with dazzling rhetoric (Churchill and Henry himself.)
Soldiers are soldiers – backed by archers on French battlefields or exposed on patrol in the badlands of
Helmand. Henry’s squaddies wear sweat-stained fatigues and camouflage helmets.
They squabble, fist fight and dissemble. Machine gun fire and laser lights serrate the stage during battle scenes. The main set is scaffolding – Camp Bastion perhaps?
The Theatre Royal’s staging worked partly in the round with house lights exposing the audience to the scrutiny of performers.
Women’s parts were played by men of the company.
French princess Katherine’s gentlewoman was brilliantly re-created by Chris Myles who wandered around the auditorium and chattered in French to theatre goers.
At one point he held up his elegant navy skirt and said: “Le magasin Boden Catalogue, madame.”
It’s difficult to single out individual players as all deserve the highest praise.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s Henry grew in statesmanship as the performance progressed.
Tony Bell made a sinuous Fluellen. John Dougall played the French King with aristocratic dignity and perfect diction.
Finn Hanlon, Gary Shelford and Vince Leigh were convincing and hilarious as Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol.
The cardinals and bishops – swathed in smoke from the censer – plotted to ensure they defeated a possible
attack on church finances by offering Henry a bribe to invade France. Although he had already decided to invade France which displayed his mental habit of taking a decision and then finding a reason for it, symptomatic of politicians today.
All in all, Henry V as played by this company made the audience consider both the futility of war and the undeniable heroism and comradeship displayed by the ‘band of brothers’ who take part in it.
Sorry readers, but this is yet another ‘must see’ in Brighton.