BWW Review: HENRY V at Little Theatre, University Of Adelaide

The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild is presenting William Shakespeare's Henry V, under the direction of Shakespeare aficionado, Megan Dansie, who has won a number of personal awards for her work as a director and has also won awards for the company for past productions. In this play, King Henry V leads his army into the fray and overcomes massively unfavourable odds to win the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, a major event in the Hundred Years War, with enormous casualties on the French side, but few in his own army. To top it off, he woos and marries the French Princess, Katherine de Valois.

Dansie takes a different approach to the play, taking a cue from the musical, Man of La Mancha, in which Cervantes tells the story of Don Quixote to the other inmates when he is thrown into jail, using these others to step into the many roles in his story. She points out that Shakespeare is taught in therapy groups in the USA and UK and so she begins with a group of people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and their therapist seated around the stage.

The therapist, played by the highly experienced performer, Peter Davies, transforms into The Chorus, introduces the play with a prologue, and then we are swept into Henry's world as he embarks his ship for France. Whatever happened to the PTSD idea after that is anybody's guess, not that there was any evidence of it to begin with. Had we not been told in the programme, nobody would have known why the cast was sitting about the stage prior to the prologue.

An Englishman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, and a Welshman, walk into a war...

Captain Gower, the Englishman, Captain Jamy, the Scot, Captain Macmorris, the Irishman, and Captain Fluellen, the Welshman, are given the very broadest of accents, tipping over into caricature (I have never heard any of my Welsh friends even once say "look, you" in conversation, let alone numerous times in one sentence), and the full comic treatment by Dansie. Robert Bell, Dylan O'Donnell, Tony Busch, and Matt Houston play, respectively, the aforementioned four Captains in Henry's army, and they have the audience in stitches at every appearance of the quartet.

Shakespeare also reprised Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph, who appeared in the Henry IV plays, to add more comedy to this play, and Gary George, Lindsay Dunn, and Tony Busch don't miss a trick as this terrible trio, well-remembered from their patronage of the Boar's Head inn, Eastcheap, run by Mistress Quickly, nicely brought to life by Georgia Stockham, who appears here to announce the death of Sir John Falstaff, companion to the young Hal before he matured into the King.

Henry is played by Nick Duddy, who explores the dichotomy of being a successful soldiet and winning the war, which being aware at the same time of the horrors that war entails. To his men, in his two big speeches, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends..." and the speech on St, Crispin's Day, he is the supremely confident leader, but, privately, he has doubts and questions his actions. Duddy brings out the man within the King and displays the will that overcomes his human frailties to be the leader that his soldiers need.

Steve Marvanek takes on the role of the Duke of Exeter, adding another excellent performance to his ever growing list of successes. He brings a quiet strength to the role, an imposing presence at the King's side.

Ellie McPhee is thoroughly delightful as the playful young princess, Katherine, deliberately using her limited knowledge of the English language to tease Henry in his wooing. The humour here is gentle, sophisticated, a contrast to the rough comedy of the four Captains, or the Eastcheap trio. Duddy and McPhee handle the scene beautifully, paving the way for what will be a long peaceful period ahead, until their son, Henry VI, goes to war again.

Costumes are marked with the Cross of St. George for Henry's army, and the Fleur de Lis for those of King Charles VI of France. This is both a necessary, and a neat way of dealing with the fact that the cast play multiple characters, up to five in one case, and avoids any confusion. There is never any doubt about who is playing which character at any time. Richard Parkhill's lighting plot makes up for the minimalist set by creating virtual locations and adding atmosphere.

This is a fine cast and a clear and thoughtful interpretation of the play, one that Shakespeare novices will find easy to follow and understand, but with depth enough for the serious theatregoer.

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