Now, I am going to start this with some honesty here for I feel that it might set a little bit of the tone for this review. I am not the world’s biggest fan of Shakespeare. Yes, he may be one of the greatest ever playwrights and an absolute genius when it came to story telling, but years of having Shakespeare’s great plays shoved down our throats at school in the most boring and complicated manners kind of put me off. That being said, I had never actually seen a Shakespeare play live, so hadn’t really been able to put anything I’d learnt into context. But now, with theatres up and down the country being closed, a number of productions have made the move online, bringing a little bit of theatre magic into our very own homes, including the Barn Theatre’s recent production of Henry V.
After being insulted by the French Dauphin, the young King Henry invades France in order to claim the throne that he believes is rightfully his. Through the invasion, he fights his own internal battles as he comes to terms with leaving his old ways behind him and leading his country forwards. This production, originally performed and filmed at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester last May/June, brings the story forwards into a more modern setting with press conferences, board room meetings and bar brawls, whilst keeping it’s traditional Shakespearean language. In a cast led by Aaron Sidwell as the young king himself, this take on the classic provides a great escape from the monotony of the lockdown we are currently in.
Much like it’s original staging all those years ago, this production is simply staged, inviting the audience to instead use their imagination to create the surroundings. Nevertheless, in these modern days we are living in, this show has technology on it’s side with computerized backdrops and pre-recorded footage used throughout. This allows for an interesting and visually exciting combination of the old and the new with the backdrops adding to the rather plain staging.
With most of the cast doubling up on roles throughout, there is a lot of quick costume changes that are well executed and the cast do well to develop the characters enough to be able keep each character separate from the last. Aaron Sidwell impresses throughout as Henry, on stage for a great deal of the run time and having to perform many large and complex speeches, I wonder how he made it look so easy to remember it all and perform it with such depth and passion. Matt Ray Brown also makes an impact as Exeter alongside Lauren Samuels as Katherine and Boy, injecting some comedy as both characters, whether she be flitting between English and French or comically describing his fellow soldiers
The music by Harry Smith adds a wonderful atmosphere, switching from high energy rave music to dramatic instrumentals through the battle scenes. Director Hal Chambers alongside set and costume designer Emily Leonard, has created a show that suits the modern age without taking too much away from the classic play. As someone who has always struggled with the complexity of Shakespeare, I was rather impressed that I managed to stay with the plot and understand most of the story, but I have to be honest and say that some of the language was a little bit lost on me. It doesn’t take anything away from the story, or from the great performances of the cast, but it did make it a little harder for me to follow at times, but that’s just me. If someone who was a Shakespeare fan were to watch this production, they would be able to follow it with ease and would be thoroughly impressed with this modern interpretation.
Overall, this production is a credit to the team at the Barn Theatre and the entire cast and crew. It illustrates what a small theatre can do, bringing together an incredible team of creatives and putting together a show that not only brings a classic Shakespearean show forwards in time but brings it to an audience that may never have seen anything like it before, myself included. Whilst I did struggle with some of the language, I found the story compelling and the staging exciting, told by a very talented group of performers.