Propeller’s newest production, an interpretation of Shakespeare’s history play, fuses both traditional and modern elements in Henry V. Traditional, in the sense that they have an all-male cast, like that of Elizabethan times, yet modern in that it takes place in a contemporary setting resembling world war two. Henry V tells the horrors of war, the patriotism of soldiers and how a king emerges from the Battle of Agincourt.
It begins with the actors, clad in militant wear, marching onto the stage before performing the chorus, an element originally used to make up for the lack of scenery on the Shakespearean stage through language. In Edward Hall’s rendition, these parts are accompanied by costumes, sets and lighting, with the chaotic war scenes acted out to provide a visual combatant experience. Many of these staging techniques are experimental. Imagine tennis balls pelting down as the French mock Henry V, and big burly men throwing punches on punch bags to imply violence. These were effective although not always clear. The closing scene was slightly disappointing compared to the rest of the play, which had a hardier, more intense and action packed appeal.
Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s portrayal of Henry V was notable, with many powerful moments especially his character’s motivational speech to the soldiers, telling them to “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, Saint George!’” On the lighter side of things there is a bathtub scene with Katharine (Karl Davies) which slips into a pantomime of the French princess’ hilarious English lessons, though this is partly influenced by having no actresses on stage.
Hall’s ensemble comprises of talented musicians and singers, whose harmonising and light heartedness created a personal touch to the play. They went on to perform several familiar numbers amongst the audience during the interval for charity.
Overall, Propeller prove once again that they are able to do the bard justice and maintain the gleaming repertoire that attracts many theatre goers and Shakespeare fans each year. The company has expressed that they do not want to make the plays “accessible”, meaning that we get to see the play as it is and should be, with some creative twists here and there.