Shute Theatre and Arts Guild’s Henry V: review by Jilly Spencer

PUBLISHED: 17:00 03 November 2017

Shute Theatre and Arts Guild performed Shakespeare's Henry V. Picture: Contributed

Shute Theatre and Arts Guild performed Shakespeare's Henry V. Picture: Contributed


Shute Theatre and Arts Guild performed Shakespeare’s Henry V at St Michael’s Church, Shute, from Wednesday, October 25 to Saturday, October 28.

Shute Theatre Group’s production of Shakespeare’s King Henry V, performed from October 25 to October 28 was a truly remarkable achievement, write Jilly Spencer.

Director Elisabeth Miller, recovering from severe illness, worked on the play for many months, cutting and re-shaping to make it a feasible project for the forces at her disposal; the result was an exciting, believable and thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Shakespeare’s words took precedence over all else – there was no blood, no massive noise (just a trumpet here and there), no electronic wizardry . Lighting was simple but excellent. Costumes consisted of brightly coloured cloaks worn over ordinary clothes, with a few bold insignia to help identification. The action was swift moving, but the dialogue flowed at a natural pace, fluctuating with mood but never too fast for us to keep up.

There was little or no shouting . But how can you successfully present a Shakespeare history play without shouting? It’s a question the great professional companies (which indulge in it quite a bit!) might ask themselves, because shouting, though occasionally necessary on bigger stages, does not ensure clear hearing or comprehension.

And thankfully on this occasion, subtler means of communication were used by all members of the cast, but above all by Susan Gunn Johnson as Henry.

I can’t imagine this role ever being better played by man or woman. Reality was maintained from first to last, the mind ever drawn to the thought and feeling behind the words – not the manner in which they were spoken.

One found oneself empathising with all the characteristics of Shakespeare’s reformed young king: intelligence, warmth, modesty, anger, fire and humour were all evident in their turn. The fact that Henry had learned the hard way, through past mistakes, increased the poignancy of his eve-of-battle dilemma: the sudden fearful weight of responsibility for the decisions he had to take was made abundantly clear.

The rest of the cast evidently took their cue from the lead and from Elisabeth Miller’s skilful direction – and there were some fine performances – Iain Purdon’s quiet authority in three separate roles being particularly valuable. All deserve mention, but of course the English lesson and the courtship of the French Princess are sure-fire audience pleasers, and Deborah Meakin (this time beautifully costumed) and Anna Crabbe made both scenes funny and delicious.

The need to fire the imagination with the spoken word, as so eloquently expressed by Chorus, (Victoria Pearce) is of course what presenting Shakespeare plays is all about, and chamber productions like this can move us quite as much as those which exploit (or are drowned by) all the wonders of modern technology.

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