Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Antic Disposition's Henry V
Ginger Hibiscus | Antic Disposition's Henry V
Ginger Hibiscus | Antic Disposition's Henry V
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27 Aug REVIEW: Antic Disposition’s Henry V

Henry V 001In a military hospital just outside Agincourt, France, British soldiers, exhausted, injured and caked in mud, sit alongside French comrades as nurses tend to their wounds.

It’s a surprising opening to a play centred on one of England’s most celebrated military victories against the French, but for this production of Henry V the year isn’t 1415, it’s 1915, and instead of fighting one another, British and French troops find themselves united against a different enemy. But away from the cut and thrust of the front line, inside the hospital nurses and soldiers put rifles and bandages to one side, to join in on a performance of Henry V, a largely true tale of the English king navigating politics, war and diplomacy in 15th century Europe.

An interesting yet gentle twist on – or rather, narrative vehicle for – the Shakespearean classic, Antic Disposition breathe new life into this familiar play by recontextualising it. The change in perspective necessarily alters audience impressions, injecting a real sense of poignancy into a battle whose human cost faded into the pages of the history books many years ago, but the link in space and 500 year arc in time also serve to highlight the transience of enemnity and the oft-ignored humanity of wartime opponents; after all, the British and the French have been the very best of “frenemies” in culture, if not always in politics, for centuries.

With an extraordinary setting in Temple Church, itself one of only a handful of London venues that predate Henry V himself, the church paradoxically feels both large and small, the acoustics such that un-mic’ed actors are easily heard regardless of the direction in which they face – critical as audience members sit on either side of the central stage. The physical positioning of stage and seating lend the play an incredibly intimate air; with faces at moments only a metre or two away, the actors’ performances not only survive such close scrutiny but excel in it, emotion intensified as the proximity empowers them to act with subtlety and realism.

The powerfully understated approach is exemplified in the eponymous role with an assured performance from Freddie Stewart, his otherwise youthful visage seemingly seasoned and embattled as King Henry, comfortable, convincing and compelling in a role not obviously suited to him.

Henry V 002This is just one way in which Antic Disposition’s production positively sweats authenticity, with another in the unpolished musicality it has about it; drama is interspersed with original songs, echoing those sung in the trenches (Christopher Peake) and performed with voices and a style many steps removed from traditional musical theatre, though still beautifully arranged and harmonised.

Despite being an incredibly enjoyable production of Henry V, it maintains some of the problems with the original, not least in the disconnect that always existed between the tales of war and romance, the story of Henry and Katherine continuing to feel tacked onto the end of the play, almost as an appendix to an already largely complete piece. Taken as it was created, though, and accepting that love at first sight is something that clearly fascinated Shakespeare, it is very difficult to pick fault.

Antic Disposition have created yet another production that makes Shakespeare remarkably engaging and exciting, maintaining large swathes of original script but making pertinent changes to subtly alter how their audiences engage with the work. Poignant, perturbing, and excellently acted, it’s safe to say their ration tin-crowned king has certainly brought this reviewer round to the prospect of watching the monarchy of the Middle Ages through the eyes of an Elizabethan bard.

For tickets and information:
Venue: Temple Church
Dates: 24th August – 5th September 2015
Images: Scott Rylander

Star Rating

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