Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 1 June 2012

Henry V

Marylebone Gardens ⋄ 22nd May - 30th June 2012

Theatre of war.

Sarah Dustagheer

On arrival at the old BBC London offices on Marylebone High Street you are barked at by a solider. He demands your name, before leading you down to your ‘new digs’ – military barracks complete with benches, sandbags and pictures of loved ones on the wall. In this way, Theatre Delicatessen’s Henry V immerses its audience in Shakespeare’s theatre of war well before any lines are spoken: we are soldiers in the King’s army, awaiting orders.

Theatre Delicatessen specialise in pop-up theatre experiences and this sense of immersion is the major strength of their production, coming into its own during the scenes of battle at Agincourt. In Katharine Heath’s military barracks English and French soldiers urgently rush in and around the audience, recoiling from the violence and bringing in the injured. Fergus Waldron’s excellent atmospheric soundscape places us at the heart of the action with distant airplanes, overhead bombing and even the clang of metallic surgical instruments used to treat the wounded. And lighting design by William Reynolds evocatively creates the dawn before the fighting begins and the heat of the battle. In this vivid and visceral world, Philip Desmeules’ Henry delivers his rousing battle cries to a ‘band of brothers’, both actors and audience members.

However, before the dramatic climax of the post-interval battle scenes, the production falters. Desmeules’ Henry is a professional soldier, appearing in uniform until the final scene, restrained and regal. Although his anger on the field at Agincourt is more palpable, in the production’s first half, the fiery and potentially war-mongering aspect of Henry’s character does not come to life. The King’s furious response to France’s insulting gift of tennis balls lacks the defiant strength that lines such as ‘I will rise’, ‘I will dazzle’ and ‘I am coming on’ demand. In a contemporary context where Tony Blair was denounced as a ‘war criminal’ by a protester at the Levenson Inquiry and civil war rumbles on in Syria, it would have been good to see the darker ambiguities of Shakespeare’s Henry V and the war he pursues examined more closely. Before the quick fire communication of battle, the play contains long speeches of legal argument and diplomatic double-speak. This text demands and rewards shifts in tone, pauses and clarity but these are often lost in the production’s brisk, brutal and military delivery.

The final half of the production makes the most of the potential of immersive theatre: the military barracks into which the audience are placed is well used and much is made of the audience’s role as soldiers. In earlier scenes, though potential alternative roles for the audience are brought into play – for example as members of the English and French court needing to be won over or pacified – they are not fully realised. This is a shame, as with the audience sitting as close as they are to the actors, moments of direct address can be intense and engaging; indeed Henry’s thoughtful and nervous soliloquy the night before the battle is both of these things. But although Theatre Delicatessen do well in their recreation of the experience of warfare, there are, in the words of Shakespeare’s Chorus, a few too many ‘imperfections’ in this production.

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Sarah Dustagheer

Sarah Dustagheer is a London based Shakespearean academic. She completed here PhD at King's College London and Shakespeare's Globe; her research examines the relationship between theatre architecture, playwriting and performance in early modern London. Before academia becokened, she was a drama practitioner, running workshops for children aged 5 to 12 in schools, theatres and community clubs across London. She has written about theatre in a range of other publications including Arts Professional, Shakespeare Jahrbuch and Around the Globe.

Henry V Show Info


Produced by Theatre Delicatessen

Directed by Roland Smith

Link http://theatre-delicatessen.makemoredigital.com/

Running Time 2h 30 mins (including interval)

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