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Henry V

by on 25 April 2023

Powerful Paean to Patriotism

Henry V

by William Shakespeare

Richmond Shakespeare Society at The Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham until 29th April

Review by Brent Muirhouse

When it comes to the work of the Bard, it might be simplistic to talk of something so prominent and enduring as dramaturgical Marmite, but there would be a sizeable part of the population and indeed classrooms across the world that disengage at the sibilance of the word ‘Shakespeare’.  Perhaps, Henry V is the answer. 

Whilst it’s a history, the play follows the young King Henry V of England as he grapples with the challenges of leadership and warfare in medieval England, embarking on an offensive against the French ending in (that popular pub quiz answer) the Battle of Agincourt.  The lead character is a complex and charismatic figure, burdened by the weight of his responsibilities as king and struggling to reconcile his moral and political obligations.  This production by Richmond Shakespeare Society at Twickenham’s Mary Wallace Theatre captures this in a thoroughly engaging and powerful exhibition from start to finish, the titular character (Luciano Dodero) superb as an anchor that anyone in the audience could only be captivated by, as the rest of the cast add colour and nuance for the more seasoned.

The acting throughout created a real volume in the theatre, which this reviewer couldn’t help be drawn into.  Henry’s authority and indeed charm was conveyed by Luciano Dodero in a performance of stature where at times he felt like a man of ten-feet tall, through an alive, continuous staring into the audience.  The darkest vignette of lighting and simple staging created an appropriately sombre and contemplative atmosphere, while the effective use of the stage by the actors brought a sense of extended physical dimension to the play, particularly in the battle scenes, wherein actors often ran to the stage from the back of the audience, bringing those watching front and centre to the battleground of the drama.

The leadership, patriotism, and power Shakespeare intended Henry to embody were explored deftly through the central performance and an able supporting cast including the Duke of Exeter (Darren McIlroy), Duke of Gloucester (Dana Acharya) and the ever-sneaky Pistol (Vaughan Pierce), allowing the moral complexities of war and the responsibilities of rulers to be examined.  Director Francesca Ellis’ production also made some effective changes to the play, with the narration handled by three female characters – Mistress Quickly (Dionne King), Princess Katherine (Anna Fitz), and Alice (Deborah Tinsdale) – to progress the story in a more accessible way, and often provide moments of light humour, adding a welcome touch of levity.  It is clever storytelling to use these characters as both narration plot devices and additionally to enter the storyline when their time comes.

The physical foundations of the play were simple, allowing the audience to focus on the drama at hand.  The traditional, relatively basic costumes worked well, further immersing the audience in the world of medieval England.  The Mary Wallace Theatre’s setting was also made the most of, with the stage’s levels used to great effect in creating a sense of depth and scale to Henry V.

Overall, the Richmond Shakespeare Society’s production of Henry V was as robust as the chainmail worn in battle by the king himself, and furthermore a thought-provoking exploration of one of Shakespeare’s most enduring works.  Until this production, Henry V was relatively new to this reviewer, and yet the narrative easily swept me in.  Much of the play’s themes have relevance in evaluating leadership today as much as in the 15th century, and this production didn’t hesitate in bringing them to life for modern audiences of all levels of familiarity with the Bard’s work.  This sense of being richly rewarded by both the multi-layered work of the famous playwright – and this king’s ransom of a performance of it – kept me in good spirits as I left the theatre to the streetlights of suburbia, despite walking out into the pouring rain of Twickenham riverside.

Brent Muirhouse, April 2023

Photography courtesy of RSS

  1. celiabard permalink

    So enjoyed reading this review, could almost imagine myself in the theatre watching the play being performed. Conqratulations to the whole of the RSS production team on mounting such a successful show.

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