Often overlooked amongst Shakespeare’s works, this production brings attention to the rich play of Henry V. The dazzling cast produce a captivating performance of the history play than can be followed by both the Shakespeare-savvy and newcomers alike.
This is the first time Henry V has been produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory (stf) but this lack of experience does not show. With smooth transitions, first-class acting and a modern twist, the performance runs like clockwork. If some audiences don’t like Shakespeare to be tampered with by modern inclusions whilst others expect something refreshing, Elizabeth Freestone’s direction strikes a balance between the contemporary and the traditional to keep everyone happy.
The set is simplistic and used effectively. For example, two vintage-style ribbon microphones are on stage throughout and are cleverly used in a variety of ways; as bridges for the English and French monarchies to cross paths, they give a voice to the outspoken, and act simply as microphones for practicing speeches. The sound and warm orange lighting often remain subtle on the hazy central stage and the background score lifts each scene as though it is a dramatic Hollywood film. Refusing to allow these anachronistic props or technical aspects to upstage the plot and characterisation, the acting shines through as the star of the show.
Ben Hall masters the eponymous prince. Despite seeming slightly forced at the beginning, the raw vulnerability of the character is perfectly captured by Hall as he fluctuates from inspiring leader to broken soldier, mirroring his difficult journey from immature youth to a respected heir to the English throne.
Yet this production is far from a one-man show. Alice Barclay’s portrayal of the Duke of Exeter is particularly excellent, illustrating the prince’s vital need for loyal aid and even, at times, an emotional crutch. David Osmond’s version of the welsh Captain Fluellen leaves audiences either laughing or in stunned silences with scenes between himself and Pistol (played by the talented Chris Donnelly) being some of the most memorable of the play.
Joanne Howarth’s opening as the Chorus is brilliant and her familiar Bristolian tone immediately relaxes the West Country audience as a true storyteller should. Interestingly, Howarth portrays the Chorus as emotionally involved with both the English and the French counterparts to the war, like a mother watching her two children fight. This parental compassion works well and is furthered through her performance as the mediating Duke of Burgundy, attempting to distil peace and calm between Henry and the French monarchy.
This Bristol performance of Henry V purposefully illuminates the inner turmoil between Henry’s responsibility as a Prince versus his conscience as a comrade-in-arms. The play humanises the prince and gives a voice to the ordinary, a perfect way to reveal the breadth of this talented cast. Providing everything you want from a modern performance of Shakespeare, stf’s version of Henry V will please any fan of the Bard. Scratch that, any fan of theatre.