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HENRY V – Middle Temple Hall, London.

HenryVTemple-SRylander-PRESS-039Press night for this tour of Antic Disposition’s powerful version of Henry V came to the majestic interior of Middle Temple Hall a mere 151,258 days after the first recorded performance of another favourite play, Twelfth Night, under the same oaken roof. It’s not too important, but the sign reminding visitors of this does provoke rumination about the passing of time and of change. This production of Henry V, which had an excellent 12 date run across the courtyard in Temple Church in September last year, was heavily inspired by that passage of time, being designed to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the 100 year anniversary of WWI and the theatre company’s 10 year anniversary.

Set in a convalescent camp just by the front lines in the first world war, the play is put on as an entertainment for the men by injured troops. 500 years after running towards each other at Agincourt, the French and British men are now on very much the same track, all equally battered and united against a common foe. Focusing on camaraderie rather than might, the injured soldiers chart King Henry V’s determination to recover his rightful lands in France, the capture of Harfleur and the battle of Agincourt with notes on the ordinary soldiers in the ranks along the way.

The production pays its respects to history admirably with detailed costumes, sound, and lighting, creating atmosphere instantly and capitalising on it to give the audience a massive helping hand when it comes to piecing out their imperfections with our thoughts. Highlighting the theme, the play is interspersed with work from the poet AE Housman, set to original music by Christopher Peake (apart from the original, haunting and strident music for A Shropshire Lad from the composer George Butterworth).

Following the theme of collaboration and international relations, the cast – although changed in parts from the previous production – is still made of a mix of British and French actors. Reprising his role as the king, Freddie Stewart puts in a top quality performance. Vigorous and steely in battle, he once more brings a tenderness and vulnerability to the role. So much so that Henry’s third battle of the play, with Katherine of France’s love as the prize, is just as emotionally impactful as the other to more famous depictions of Harfleur and Agincourt. As Pistol and other characters, James Lavender weaves a super thread of comedy throughout. And this is all counterpointed by James Murfitt as Gower, one of the soldier actors who smashes through any audience complacency with his depiction of a man suffering from shell shock.

This is a production that feels at home under vaulted roofs, and going on a tour through some of the country’s greatest spaces, the cathedrals that make up much of Britain’s spiritual and historical heritage, is sure to produce some excellent moments of theatre. Framed by pew seats, stained glass and portraits of kings and other icons, Antic Disposition’s use of true history and well presented drama should be seen whenever the opportunity arises.

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Reviewed 24/08/15

By Karl O’Doherty

26th March – 6th April 2016 (then national tour)
Middle Temple Lane, London, EC4Y 9AT.

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Tour Dates: 
Monday 18th & Tuesday 19th April – Winchester Cathedral
Wednesday 20th April – Christchurch Priory, Dorset
Thursday 21st & Friday 22nd April – Salisbury Cathedral
Saturday 23rd April – Sherborne Abbey
Monday 25th & Tuesday 26th April – Bristol Cathedral
Wednesday 27th April – Gloucester Cathedral
Thursday 28th April – Worcester Cathedral
Friday 29th April – Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

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