The award-winning Barn Theatre is like that friend who says quietly and confidently, ‘I have big plans’. There’s a silence, you all have a little josh about it and then they actually go and pull it off. In an epic way.
Following the beautiful production of Butterfly Lion (whose acclaimed writer Michael Murpurgo said ‘It was so much better than the book…’) comes the Barn Theatre’s first production of Shakespeare.
Now if anyone was going to take on Shakespeare they may well start with Romeo and Juliet or a bit of Bottom and Titania but not our Rocker friends. They offer a full on blasting of fight and intrigue with their take of Henry V which is a masterstroke as it’s contemporary, passionate and will leave you utterly transfixed. The pace never lets up and the cast delivers each line of Shakespearean text as clear as modern English. Phew.
The production sucks you in from the moment you arrive, as you find your seat (and are careful not to spill your v good wine from the bar) the cast jokes with each other on stage…we’re introduced to the happy, uncomplicated youth of today. Innocents, having fun, enjoying each other’s company ….unaware of the fate before them.
The cast is incredible with leads played by Aaron Sidwell (who’s starred in a vast number of productions including Wicked and Ghost) and Lauren Samuels (Bend it Like Beckham and We Will Rock You), each member effortlessly plays several different roles in succession and each of them believable and powerful.
For those who may not know Henry V, it takes place in England and Henry has just been crowned. Several civil wars have left the country irritated and restless and in order to gain respect the new monarch must play down his wild past (fabulously played out in a nightclub) and show he is a true leader. He tenuously tries to claim parts of France and unsurprisingly doesn’t gain the support of the French but is undeterred and those Henry was close to during his time of revelry (who he dismissed when rising through the ranks of royalty) back him and prepare for war.
Just before setting off, Henry hears of traitors plotting against him and executes three, including his friend. Battle commences and against all odds, the English win and the French surrender. Peace negotiations include the marriage between Katherine, daughter of the French King and Henry. There is a lovely scene with a chic and coy Katherine (wonderfully played by Samuels who also plays ‘Boy’ a young soldier equally convincingly) trying to learn some basic English words to make the union with Henry smoother.
The story is brought up to the minute with references, via a vast, turbulent screen, to Brexit but, fear not those who’ve had enough of the subject, it’s much more than that – it’s about the banality of war and fragility of forced unions, the decisions of those in higher ranks, who are unaware and uncaring of the fatal consequences. The reminder that teenagers are one minute raving in T-shirts and jeans with their mates and then trussed in a uniform trudging through a littered battlefield the next.
There is anticipation as the cast moves deftly from stage to the aisles (fear not shrinking violets, there’s only one moment of audience participation) and the intimacy of the theatre and sensation of the production is equal to the buzz of seeing your favourite artist up close at the Edinburgh festival with the powerful and passionate performances you’d find at the National Theatre.
The original score is fantastic and costumes authentic and impressive.The set is a clever, simple scaffolding that is multi-faceted – from a convincing bookmakers to ladders over trenches. It’s a gutsy, thrilling production that stays with you long after the cast has taken its bows.
So if you’re missing the thrill of Game of Thrones or just need an evening of heart-racing action and dialogue then don’t delay – Henry V – runs for just another few days until 22 June.
The full cast includes: Matt Ray Brown (Exeter/Orleans), Alicia Charles (Bardolph/Williams) Elin Philips (Fluelllen), Lauren Samuels (Katherine/Boy), Aaron Sidwell (Henry), Adam Sopp (Pistol/Constable), Sarah Waddell (Queen of France) and Jonathan Woolf (Nym/Dauphin).
Directed by Hal Chambers with designs by Emily Leonard, fight direction by Christos Dance, movement direction by Kate Webster, composition by Harry Smith, projection designs by Benjamin Collins, sound desing by Chris Cleal and lighting by Sam Rowcliffe Tanner.