Friday, 10 July 2015

Review: Henry V at the Union Theatre

Henry V 
Union Theatre 
Reviewed on Tuesday 7th July 2015

War. Power. Death. For centuries, women have suffered with the consequences of these three things. Yet still we are looked on as weak and unsuited for such things. Ahead of a report to be released in 2016 about letting roles in the armed forces be 'determined by ability and not gender' Lazarus Theatre presents an all-female production of Henry V that looks at the role of women in the military.

This crew, this happy crew, this band of sisters... dominate the stage with power and energy that's a pre-requisite of any Shakespearean history play. The words of Henry V are particularly memorable, with so many encouraging pre-battle speeches.

Each woman wears a navy jumpsuit with her hair in a bun, except for Harry (Colette O'Rourke) whose hair begins down, then in a ponytail and then finally, in solidarity with her brothers, also in a bun.

The play is (mercifully) abridged, focusing on the war and the battles within them. This gives much stronger emphasis to the role of the military, but certain scenes could also have been cut to keep the audience gripped. The interval when it comes feels like the end of the production and it is only the lack of the Crispin's Day speech that informs the audience that perhaps there is still more to come. Splitting the piece into a 90-minute first act and a 30-minute second act is also an interesting choice.

The actors are strong and enthusiastic, despite some odd interpretations that provide slightly forced laughs from the audience. The Dauphin's messenger wears a clown mask, skipping on stage singing Frere Jacques; when he leaves he is met with a loud chorus of farewell.

Gender itself disappears from the play and the interactions between Fluellan and Harry especially are quite amusing.

The simple but effective staging keeps the audience attentive, as the cast stand, sit and crouch on and under chairs to depict certain moments. Yet this is a play of words and these words are delivered passionately from each member of the cast, with no weak orator among them.

It was powerful, passionate and a little bit bizarre, but could have been edited a little bit more to avoid an unnecessary second act.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Henry V runs at the Union Theatre until 18th July 2015.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

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