English Kings Killing Foreigners

Nina Bowers and Philip Arditti
REALFAKE Theatre and Camden People’s Theatre
Camden People’s Theatre, London

Listing details and ticket info...

Phil Arditti and Nina Bowers
Phil Arditti
Nina Bowers and Phil Arditti

The impressive actors Nina Bowers and Phil Arditti have created a light romp around an imagined production of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The show has an eye for absurd humour that had the audience smiling and one or two people laughing. Mostly, it feels like a playful series of linked warm-up exercises at an actors' workshop, which, to make it seem more than a slight situation comedy, lightly references issues of identity politics.

A series of party games are scattered across the evening to keep you in the mood for fun. The first is the Mad Libs word game in which audience members suggest words to fill in the blanks in the formulae English BLANK Killing BLANK. After some weird suggestions, we settled on English breakfasts Killing Irish.

A huge tennis ball is given to the audience to hide. Philip, with a serious facial expression, wanders about the auditorium, climbing over seats, occasionally pointing at suspects trying to guess who had it.

Later, everybody got a soft tennis ball which we were asked to throw at Nina and Philip, who were each wearing a top that would allow balls to stick to them.

However, beyond the games is the Shakespeare romp. We began with a vote to decide which actor should play the King. Nina won the vote. This shapes one aspect of the sitcom that follows.

The actors then perform as the characters named Nina and Philip, who don’t know each other, arrive late for rehearsals of Henry V, set in contemporary times, to find the doors locked. As they try various methods of getting entry from phone calls to eventually trying to break the door down, they learn a bit about each other.

Both admit feeling awkward about fitting in. Nina has moved to London from Canada. Philip comes from Turkey and is in the process of preparing for his citizenship test.

That scene ends with them hearing that the actor playing Henry V has died. As a result, Nina takes on the role of Hanry V, increasing the friction between the pair given Philip is still confined to playing the part of a character serving food in a kebab shop.

Nina and Philip are engaging actors who can amuse with a gesture or facial expression that gives a mild strength to an innocuous identity politics-flavoured satire.

Henry V has been continuously reshaped to fit the politics and mood of a community, from the glorification of the English nation in Olivier’s 1944 film to the more recent disturbing anti-war productions of Henry V at the Donmar in 2022 and Headlong’s 2023 performance at the Globe, which both raised important questions about Henry’s war crimes and his sexual abuse of women.

This silly actorly knockabout bit of fun has nothing much to say about the world, but offers a lively, mildly entertaining escape from our increasingly troubled times.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?