Henry V

William Shakespeare
Built By Barn
Barn Theatre, Cirencester

Aaron Sidwell as Henry V Credit: Eve Dunlop
Cast of Henry V Credit: Eve Dunlop
Cast of Henry V Credit: Eve Dunlop

Just because the theatres are dark at the moment doesn’t mean we have to live in a cultural desert. A lot of companies are beginning to stream their plays on line for a limited period, and last night The Barn Theatre bought us a live streamed recording of their 2019 production of Henry V, which will now be available on YouTube for free.

Shakespeare wrote Henry V at a time of uncertainty for England, a time when the population needed to look back at better times—as we do now.

This play is a story of victory, of a leader who brought the country together to fight a common foe, who inspired courage in a time of seeming hopelessness and rallied his troops in the face of overwhelming odds.

To make it even more relevant, Barn has placed it in modern-day dress, made a number of characters women and embedded it with a contemporary soundtrack by Harry Smith and some very effective use of media (Ben Collins) and lighting design (Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner).

In fact, the technology plays as important a part in this production as the actors, setting each scene using newsflashes to give background, creating the battles and moving the pace along.

There are some interesting contemporary settings: a betting shop as the men spar and fight with clips of horse racing on the background screen, a hospital waiting room to hear of the death of Falstaff, a boardroom for the Queen of France.

On stage, a simple set of scaffolding creates levels and becomes gates and barricades to add depth to battle scenes..

Hal Chambers directs this production with a pacy rhythm that keeps the action flowing while bringing out most of the humour in what is in essence a serious and rather bloody play.

Aaron Sidwell is slightly lightweight as Henry, although his performance is strong enough—there is still more of the boy than the man in him. This makes him a slightly underwhelming commander but a much more competent wooer of Katherine. He delivers the speeches well and his performance does grow as the production moves on. The modern interpretation means he’s in combats rather than crown and comes across as a reluctant general, happier as one of the lads, feeling the weight of responsibility too keenly. He reminded me very much of our own Prince Harry.

Adam Sopp and Jonathon Woolf make the most of their pivotal roles as Nym and Pistol with Alicia Charles adding to the mix with a spirited Bartolph. Lauren Samuels is a delightful Kate and also produces a moving performance as Boy.

Sometimes the camera work is a little jarring and the size of the Barn’s stage means occasionally actors spill off the performance area and out of shot.

Nevertheless, this feels like a fresh and interesting take on a very well-known play that makes it relevant not only to last year’s Brexit but this year’s unsettling events. And well worth a look.

Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes