Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Loveday Ingram
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon
Set in the beautiful Grosvenor Park, Chester’s Open Air Theatre celebrates its 10th birthday this year with a trio of plays: Twelfth Night, The Borrowers and, of course, Henry V.
This story of war, allegiance and identity remains as universal and relevant now as it was to the Elizabethans watching it at the turn of the 17th Century. Telling the story of the events leading up to, and throughout the battle of Agincourt, director Loveday Ingram has chosen to stage the vibrant, heroic and bloody story considering not only England’s relationship with France, but with the EU. Shakespeare writes King Henry as a thoughtful, responsible monarch, a leader with a conscience, yet one who understands that sacrifices and tough decisions must be made to be successful in his campaign. Ingram wants the audience to consider and question whether, while our own relationship with Europe so delicate, do we have faith in our leaders?
With yobish soldiers draped in the St. George’s cross chanting ‘England ‘til I die’ it is not only leadership that the audience might question while watching Henry V, but those who follow blindly in their nationalist wake. Shakespeare’s trio of vagabonds, Pistol, Bardolph and Nym, epitomise the laddish louts often associated with nationalism. Their gross banter and violent japes are perfectly suited to the thuggish hooligans we often see on the news.
Samuel Collings as Pistol, Jessica Dives as Bardolph and Mitesh Soni as Nym deliver some of the most entertaining wordplay and comic acting in this production. Collings is particularly vibrant in his delivery of Pistol, and the trio have a fantastic on-stage relationship. When they are joined on stage by Seren Vickers who is hilarious as the Welsh Fluellen, you are in for a real treat. Soni takes on a range of minor characters alongside his portrayal of Nym and succeeds in making them memorable. As ladies maid Alice, playing opposite Sarah-Jane Potts’ Katherine in Act 3 Scene 4, known to most as ‘the French scene’, the pair produce one of the most riveting scenes in the production, a beautiful piece of comic relief within this violent and blood-soaked play.
The title role of King Henry is one of the most challenging written by the bard with numerous lengthy yet ingenious speeches, most of which are well known and often quoted. Many fans of Shakespeare will have their own idea of how these speeches should be delivered. What a challenge to take on, and Joseph Milson stands up to it with the majesty and gallantry of, well, a king. Delivered with real attention paid to the detail of the language, Millson’s interpretation has a lovely classic feel to it. A little quiet at times in the open air, yet Millson successfully reveals to the audience what is truly going on in Harry’s mind and the difficulties behind leading his band of brothers into battle.
The production is quite creatively delivered out with some clever directorial moments. At one moment, ladders are used to imaginative effect on the battle scene, appear for five minutes and then the novelty is lost and they are never seen again, perhaps it might have been more effective if they could be a running theme in the staging? The same with Guy Fawkes masks, symbolic of anonymous protests, the appear and then drift away, one feels as if the production needs a little more consistency with its staging ideas.
John Biddle’s compositions also feel lost in this production, not because of their lack of quality but the cast lack the confidence to sing them successfully. Either more accompaniment or a few more rehearsals are needed to boost the quality and confidence of the singing; it detracts from the poignance of some of the scenes.
Despite this, Storyhouse have once again succeeded in turning a summers evening into a real event. Grab a glass of Pimms and fingers crossed for balmy evenings, hopefully, the theatre gods will keep the rain at bay until September.
Runs until 25th August 2019 | Image: Mark Carline