Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Yvonne Murphy
Reviewer: Jacqui Onions
Omidaze Productions, in co-production with Wales Millennium Centre, returns to the unusual space of the Centre’s roof void with its second all-female version of a Shakespeare play.
It is likely to be the quirkiness of these productions that attract an audience in the first place, be that because you want to see how an all-female cast copes in a traditionally male-dominated world or just to see parts of the iconic Wales Millennium Centre that are not usually accessible to the public. However, what will keep these audiences coming back for more is the sheer quality of the performance.
Hannah O’Leary as Henry VI demonstrates a rarely seen talent; the ability to deliver complex Shakespearean dialogue while hanging upside down and showing great aptitude in aerial circus skills. This may sound like a strange addition to Henry VI but it works incredibly well to symbolise the youthful innocence of the King.
At no point during the performance do you think about watching a female actor playing a male character, such is the skill of the cast. You never see gender or age, just the character – every single one is played to perfection. Although Omidaze Productions have not departed too far from their first production of this kind, moving from Richard III to Henry VI, both historical pieces full of treachery, murder and strong male characters. However, it is pleasing to see them take the gender blur a step further this time and present a play with a female character – Queen Margaret (Suzanne Packer) – whose strength equals that of the male characters.
This talented cast is also expected to take on a number of roles each, with very little visual clue to the audience which character they are playing at any given time except maybe a slight change to the costume. With the possible exception of the switches between Lord Clifford and Prince Edward by Polly Kilpatrick, these changes of character are executed with ease and clarity.
Henry VI is performed in promenade around the Wales Millennium Centre’s roof void, which has been transformed by designer, Gabriella Slade, into a suitably intriguing yet bleak backdrop with a cold, industrial feel. Her costume designs also reflect this and, although it is a complete break from tradition, it really works.
The promenade aspect adds another dimension to the piece and makes full use of the interesting space. However, to get the best views and immerse yourself fully in the production you have to be on the ball when it comes to moving from scene to scene and the speediest audience members will get the most out of it. The cast does well to direct the audience around the space but there are still occasional moments where you are not sure where you are meant to move to next or feel like you are in the way. There is also a lot of moving around for the audience in what is a long piece of theatre so it becomes quite exhausting to watch.
Henry VI is packed with strong performances and is well worth a visit; just make sure you wear sensible shoes.
Runs until 20 February 2016 | Image: Contributed