“Henry the Fifth”, currently showing at the Unicorn, encompasses everything one would wish of a theatre production for children: full of action, playfully humoristic, imaginative, and thought-provoking.
This commitment and passion to both entertain and trigger the imagination and thinking of its audience, is not only evident in the writing and the direction of the play, but is also echoed in the brilliant acting of all the four members of the cast, together talented and vibrant. Shane Zaza, in the role of Henry, in particular, perfectly reflects in both his elocution and body language, the ambiguity of the world depicted in the play in-between adulthood and childhood. It is of no surprise therefore that the play charmed an audience of all ages when we attended. Equally, Hannah Boyde, in the role of Princess Katherine, is very convincing in her portrayal of a wide range of emotions and characters. Indeed, she also takes the role of gripping Abdul Salis as the narrator of the play, as she succeeds in stealing his ancient tale coat. This clever trick enables to shift the viewpoints from which the story is told, to intriguing and hilarious results.
From the very start of the play, we are warned that we will be kept on our toes, in both the thrilling unfolding of the story and the active role which our imagination will play in the visualisation of the events encountered: the crossing of the Channel on a ship, the thousands soldiers involved in the long and terrible medieval war between the two kingdoms of France and England, and the magnificent castles. To start with, the stage is indeed sparse, apart from a crown in its middle, symbolic of Royal power. It is however soon replaced by a sand-castle on a large sand-pit onto and around which the action takes place, with surprising and inventive visual and sound effects.
The story reaches its climax when Henry the Fifth of England, envious of the French King’s castle, decides to invade, so he can have it all to himself, despite his awareness of the destructive and harmful consequences of his decision. With plentiful humour, subtle remarks and topical poignancy, the play thus deals with the greed for power and for materialistic accumulation of the people above, and with their ego-centred strategies to get what they want, ignoring both the need of others and even sometimes the law. The play also shows the importance of history in our understanding of the present and potential prediction of the future, as well as the hypocritical notion of war heroes through the idea of their dying with “honour”. Examining these profound issues in a truely enjoyable way accessible to all, the writer has therefore successfully taken the essence of the Shakespeare play, which works for both the novices and the fans.