DramaReviewSouth West

Henry V – Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Elizabeth Freestone

Sound Designer: Giles Thomas

Reviewer: Julia Beasley

England is at odds with France. the country sees the people across the Channel as the enemy. The air is thick with jingoistic rallying cries: “Once more unto the breach…cry God for Harry, England and St George!”We’re just about to do battle with our old foes.

The Brexit analogy in Shakespeare’s Henry V is inescapable in this deliciously dark production set in modern dress. It is a play for our times that unpacks patriotism and the myth of the heroic leader.

King Harry was a medieval warrior who fought to reclaim bits of France that England had once held. He spearheaded victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, became heir to the French throne and married the King of France’s daughter Katharine. His tomb in Westminster Abbey calls him the “Hammer of the Gauls”.

Under Elizabeth Freestone’s direction, Henry evolves from a shallow party animal into a ruthless military strategist and solider. Played soulfully and at times tearfully by Ben Hall, he will execute his own men for insubordination but is troubled by the human price of war. If his cause is just, are his means always justified? And who is to blame for the deaths of innocent civilians?

Katharine is infused with splendid punkish energy by a shaven-headed Heledd Gwynn in chic lilac trouser suit. The strength of this production also lies in the gender-blind casting of other key roles including Joanne Howarth as Chorus, who sets the context for the action; Alice Barclay as Exeter, the king’s confidante, and Rosie Armstrong as Bardolph, a ruddy-faced soldier who helps provide the comic relief.

Feisty French Katharine is initially outraged when the conquering Henry proposes to her. Why would I marry the enemy of France, she asks? He wearily explains: by marrying him she’ll get both France and England. And she sees the sense of what he’s saying. It’s a true European Union.

Runs until 6 October 2018 | Image: Craig Fuller

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