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    Review: Henry V – A Promenade Production

    The decision to stage Henry V as a promenade production is a masterstroke. Need a battlefield? Worcester gardens are ready and waiting. Need to travel from England to France? You have to move from one scene to another anyway, so why not make a feature of it? Need an army? You have an audience. This production, directed by Luke Rollason, takes the fullest advantage of the opportunities offered by this staging, and it’s an exciting and innovative decision that really breathes new life into a play which perhaps more than most bears the heavy weight of tradition and — some might say — unfashionability.

    Full disclosure: Henry V hasn’t ever really been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Maybe it’s the overtones of jingoism and undertones of xenophobia, maybe it’s the overwhelming maleness of the dramatis personae, or maybe it’s just that I’ve never been able to take the line “then imitate the action of a tiger” entirely seriously. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rollason’s take on the text has entirely changed my opinion, it’s certainly opened my eyes to Henry V’s possibilities, and it’s by far the most enjoyable and intriguing version of the play that I have seen.


    One of the great strengths of this staging is the way in which the actors interact with the audience. This might not be to everyone’s taste — you’ll almost certainly be directly addressed at some point, and possibly even manhandled — but for me it added a new, more interactive dimension to the piece, which allowed for an investment with the characters that might be more difficult to engineer under other circumstances. A play like Henry V implies crowds — of soldiers, of noblemen, of random citizens of both the French and English varieties — and this production really exploits the potential of the audience to fulfil this role. The prologue bids us to “into a thousand parts divide on man”; in this production the multiplicity of functions assigned to one person applies not only to the actors but to the audience as well.

    It seems somewhat disingenuous to single out any one actor for their contribution when you’re faced with such a talented ensemble, most playing multiple roles to great effect. However, praise is surely due to James Colenutt, who gives an engaging performance as a young King Henry learning what it is to be a leader. James Aldred’s petulant and petty-minded Dauphin is also a delight.

    There’s a strong vein of humour running throughout, which, whilst extremely entertaining, doesn’t quite gel with the gritty violence of “warlike Harry’s” campaign, and in the more serious final act the pace drags a little in comparison to the punchier earlier scenes. The production at times caught between being knockabout comedy and intense drama, never satisfyingly settling on either.

    Nonetheless, even as a long-time Harry Five sceptic, I thoroughly enjoyed this production, and I’d recommend it to fellow doubters. There’s really something for everyone with heroism, hilarity, dodgy French accents (and dodgier French maids), along with well-cast and extremely talented actors. Wrap up warm, prepare to make your theatrical debut, and head to Worcester College to enjoy this well-conceived and ultimately successful take on a classic.

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