Pros: The acting, design and direction are all outstanding.
Cons: The chairs!
Set in the wonderfully ethereal Southwark Cathedral, Antic Disposition‘s production of Henry V really is something special. However, as we took our seats I couldn’t help but feel a little concerned. The chairs were uncomfortable and I was worried about whether my view of the stage was going to be obstructed by the row in front. From experience, uncomfortable seating can make Shakespeare a bit of a chore. All concerns disappeared into thin air as this brilliant production got underway, however. The simple set design, in combination with the beauty of the cathedral, created an awesome ambience.
This adaptation of Shakespeare’s play is set in 1915, 500 years after the battle of Agincourt. Two groups of wounded soldiers are evacuated from the front line and, as they recover in hospital, they decide to stage their own production of Henry V. So, it is a play within a play, and the nuanced comparisons between the Hundred Years’ War and the First World War work very well. Soldiers playing soldiers and a war set within a war give this production an edge of poignancy. It is a simple idea that allows for a different and effective take on Shakespeare’s much quoted history.
The acting is truly outstanding, with not one weak link amongst the cast. Rhys Bevan plays a likeable and brave king. Floriane Anderson, Louis Bernard, Stephen Lloyd and Adam Philps all put in particularly memorable performances but, honestly, I wish I could give each actor a write up. The talent on stage is extraordinary and powerful. About half way through, the confusion between reality and play becomes too much for some of the soldier-actors, and Philps gives a spellbinding performance of someone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I was on the edge of my seat. The emotion was so real and raw that, at points, I completely forgot where I was. In my experience, this intense kind of transportation through theatre is a rare and beautiful thing.
Christopher Peake, the musical director, has cleverly incorporated song and music into the production. I was very unsure of how this was going to work, but it’s a fantastic addition. At times the music provides a little light relief from the script, while at others it adds wonderful tension, keeping me hooked and giving me goose bumps.
At a time when the leadership of the free world is so extraordinarily vindictive, the humble, kind and brave Henry provides a lesson in morality and gives us an archetypal great leader. This production reminds us of the horror of war, its futility and its repetitive nature. It also showcases some wonderful acting and the genius of Shakespeare. The juxtaposition between the beauty and the horror of humanity makes this production unforgettable.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Ben Horslen
Director and Designer: John Riseboro
Composer: James Burrows
Composer and Musical Director: Christopher Peake
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://www.anticdisposition.co.uk/henry-v-2017.html
Booking Until: 22 February 2017