Last night J and I went to the Canberra Theatre to see Bell Shakespeare’s production of Henry V, and damn good it was too.
Henry V is a huge sprawling play, with changes of scene, comedic interludes and the rest, and near impossible to stage if one wants to do an orthodox production with scenery, costumes and the like.
Not that this would have bothered the Tudors. Plays were staged with no scenery and a minimum of props and costumes – more or less ‘theatre in the round’ without the round, and allowing the power and drama of the language to create the suspension of disbelief.
In this production Bell Shakespeare return to the original minimalist presentation. They use the conceit of a group of secondary school students trapped in a classroom during the London Blitz.
To pass the time the English master takes them through Henry V – reading and acting out the parts – just like you probably did in English Lit in school – with minimal props – crowns of folded paper, cricket pad to symbolise armour, end so on.
This device allows the schoolmaster to take the part of Chorus the narrator of the original play who explained the changes of scene to audience, and to help move the play along.
And it works brilliantly. The explosions and sirens of the blitz provide the noises off and the background to Agincourt, and the context helps reinforce the message of the futility of war, and even the comic interludes turn tragic.
It’s worth seeing – if you can, do. Details of performances can be found online at Bell Shakespeare’s website.
[An alternative view of the production can be found here]
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