At first enquiry, Henry V seems like a strange choice for a student production. What, after all, does a nationalistic war narrative say to us in the present day? What do we make of this story, in the post-Brexit chaotic landscape of modern Britain? How are we to reconcile deliberate bloodshed with the personal affective qualities of Shakespeare’s characters?
Callum King’s production speaks to these ambiguities. It is not always possible for us to understand Henry V's perspective, but we are invited to feel as he does. Context aside: camaraderie, friendship, bravery, and heroism seem to speak to an inbuilt passion that we feel amid complexity and confusion. ‘Every subjects’ soul is his own’, Henry says, and we might well think about that in relation to the varied and delightful characters on show.
Rory Potts’ Henry is everything he ought to be: wilful and arrogant, bold and self-assured; confidence radiates out of every crevice of his being, such that he makes a worthy and valiant leader. Characters are brought out by a strong cast, with cohesive and entertaining performances. The size of the cast is somewhat questionable, with many individuated characters, and scenes pertaining to battle and to war, it perhaps would have been more appropriate to have a larger cast, as occasionally roles become confused.
In the opening monologue, our Chorus (played by Darragh Creed) tells us to use our imagination, as the stage is not a proficient tool to hold the grandeur of battle. I was in the first act apprehensive about the large stage of the Greenwood - feeling that it would drown out the actors and condemn their performances to nonentity. As the play progressed however, innovative and visually exciting use of the space was a delightful point of admiration. A stand out moment was, predictably, Act 3 Scene 1's ‘Once more unto the breech’ speech; fog filled the stage and gradually grew through the audience, and the immersion was furthered by regimented clapping. The passion of the scene, the fury, and the uncertainty of victory was felt completely. Excellent lighting choices also contributed to the charming atmospheric sensuality of this production. A blue wash covered the stage when the King of France entered for the first time, clad in a fantastic velvet purple suit, evoking regal grandeur. Shin Hui Lee plays the role with quiet confidence: dignity is countered with fragility, eloquence with sensibility.
Music choices did appear confused. To have the docile tones of Edith Piaf over the scene in which the Dauphin (Matt Lulu) dies, and his mother mourns hysterically over his body, seems distorted. Despite this, one of the most striking images of the production was the King bent over the Dauphin, dead from a war with innumerable casualties on one side. Suddenly, the full extent of tragedy is felt. Here, is a woman who has been beaten.
The production suggested no concrete time period, which meant that occasionally these musical decisions were dubious, with various thematic resonances clashing out of harmony with one another. However, it also allowed for a greater degree of freedom, which was utilised through costume. Characters are recognisable, such as the soldiers in their camo trousers and Mistress Quickly (Meg Hain) particularly in her dressing gown and rollers. Holly Evans’ Fluellen was a joy to witness, with excellent comic timing and a perfect Welsh accent.
"Henry V is a success. A standout piece of theatre, with strong central performances."
Edited by Evangeline Stanford