The classic piece of theatre is given the Bell Shakespeare twist with director Damien Ryan choosing to stage the play during the London air raids of the 1940s.
Inspired by a series of diary entries from a Vicar who converted a bomb shelter into a makeshift theatre, mostly frequented by students who had stayed in London to complete their studies during the London Blitz.
The comparisons are clear in Henry’s rise to power and battle with the French Army, as are the student’s struggle to find refuge in an uncertain world. The courageous British Army who defy all odds to defeat the French is a source of comfort and evokes the camaraderie and national pride of our heroes.
Led by the boisterous Keith Argus, who runs the schoolroom bomb shelter, the tone of the play is set with an incredible soundscape that enables the audience to be immediately immersed in the dangerous and unstable environment of WWII.
It is difficult not to get emotionally attached to these characters; every blow dealt is felt in the audience in this powerful production. Michael Sheasby as the new king is as much charismatic hero as he is uncertain schoolboy, and his monologue in the second act is a rousing call to arms befitting any Hollywood blockbuster.
Joined by Damien Strouthos as Pistol, whose comic timing is spot on and penchant for the grotesque is perfectly Shakespearian, the ensemble cast are fully equipped to deal with the magnitude of the themes explored within Henry V.
With incredibly clever set design, the stage is transformed from 20th Century wartime schoolroom to Shakespearian-esque palace/ship/battlefield with a few careful prop alterations.
Bell Shakespeare’s Henry V is a glorious and tangible production, and only further cements their dominance over the Shakespeare scene in Australia.
Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare
Director Damien Ryan
Venue: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 1 – 12 July 2014
Touring Nationally from 13 June – 15 November