Review By Terry Eastham
In 2015, Antic Disposition celebrated the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare and the 100th Anniversary Battle of Loos in Northern France with a production of Henry V which I saw in Temple Church. Two years later and they are back with a cathedral tour of the play which I was lucky enough to catch at Southwark Cathedral.
Using a play within a play format, this version of Henry V begins in a field hospital in France in 1915 a group of French and English patients decide to put on a version of Henry V. Shakespeare’s play takes place 500 years earlier and concerns the young King Henry (Rhy Bevan) being maneuvered by his court to take up some dubious claims to Dukedoms in France. Following a visit from the Herald Montjoie (Marious Hesper) who brings, shall we say, a less than complimentary reply to Henry’s demands from the French Dauphin (Dean Riley) – son and heir to the King of France (Maurice Byrne) – Henry decides a Dukedom is not enough and lays claim to the kingdom of France itself. Henry and the nobility raise an army including the ‘rascals’ Pistol (Charles Neville), Bardolph (Adam Philips), Nym (Stephen Lloyd) and the Boy (Dean Riley) all torn from the bosom of Mistress Quickly (Louise Templeton). In France Henry initially does well, capturing the town of Harfleur then moves on the field of Agincourt where, despite the poor physical condition of his army, he prepares to meet the French. Led by the Dauphin and The Constable of France (Louis Bernard). At stake is not only the throne of France but the hand of the King’s daughter, the fair Princess Katherine (Floriane Anderson).
I’d previously seen this production of Henry V and really loved it. So I approached a second viewing, with a slightly different cast, a bit apprehensively. But my fears were unfounded as once again, Antic Disposition in the form of Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero put on an amazing performance of this iconic play. Shakespeare’s words are made for the grandeur of a cathedral and I will be honest and say there was a little tear in my eye at the end of the highly rousing “St Crispins Day” speech – to me, far more moving than the more famous “once more unto the breach”. Laura Rushton’s costumes are era perfect and little touches, such as the crowns made of cut up ration tins, keep the link between Agincourt and the WWI battlefront. This is particularly true at the end of the first act where a superb performance from Adam Philips really drags the production from 15th to 20th century France in a truly moving and emotional way. The inclusion of AE Housman’s poems, set to music by Christopher Peake, provides another gripping link uniting the 500 years that separate the two parts of the play.
From start to finish the acting was amazing, with many of the actors playing multiple roles – some wonderful accents appearing throughout – and in some ways Henry V is a real ensemble piece demanding so much from every actor. Having said that, the actor playing Henry has to be spot on and Rhys Bevan portrays the role superbly making it understandable that men who expected to die followed him so readily on his quest.
How would I sum up this production of Henry V? There is only one word that really applies here and that is awesome! Shakespeare’s words and Housman’s poems have been brought together by Antic Disposition in a thought-provoking and moving narrative that is delivered by a fantastically strong cast in a setting that is just amazing. This is one of those shows that really deserves to be seen and when it comes to your local cathedral, make sure you get yourself a ticket.