HENRY THE FIFTH
by Ignace Cornelissen translated by Purni Morell.
Unicorn Theatre (Weston auditorium) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 16 November 2013.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 October.
Is it Shakespeare’s Henry V?
– Not really.
– It isn’t?
– Well, sort of.
Anyone knowing Shakespeare will recognise ideas of audience imagination, battles, awkward love-talk and the conscience of the king. But that’ll be a minority of an 8+ audience. Yet some may, on meeting Henry V later, recall something of a siimiliar sort they saw years ago.
Ideas Shakespeare thought worth taking-up are played-out here by characters around the intended audience’s age: The stranger who sidles up and makes himself part of your group, the distant prospect that pleases then becomes a source of conflict when it comes closer.
Ignace Cornelissen’s young Henry has been a bad lad – been through his ‘Hal’ phase Shakespeare-savvy adults will note. Now he’s suffering the curse of childhood: boredom. And he needs money. Rejecting a commemorative stamp issue and an unpopular new tax, Henry jumps on a story he has the right to France. That’s enough for a child.
This could be any one of several Henries; but ‘the Fifth’s’ the one allotted the golden round sat alone on stage at the beginning. So it’s his adventure, to which he brings a slimmed-down version of Henry V’s debates about responsibility the night before Agincourt.
France is a table-top sandpit, at first enticing and remote. Wheeled forward it hosts the awkward meeting of Henry with French Katherine. Then it’s a battle-ground with her brother, a smaller English army of red balloons facing the larger cohort of French blues – all popped by the sword-wielding duo, ending in a dead heat.
The table can weigh heavy. Katherine has to escape from it, Henry sits under it debating political morality; life is more than playing in the sand. The Narrator who allotted Henry his star part cannot help with decisions or consequences. Storytelling isn’t prophecy; people live with what happens as their actions become meshed with those of others. Just as history is unpredictable (wasn’t World War I politically impossible?) and hefty consequences come from ill-considered decisions.
By, by the way, men. Katherine can’t rule France till she’s 21, while Henry’s encouraged on his way to war despite his youth. There’s a lot to all this, and entertainment too.
Katherine: Hannah Boyde.
Distant Cousin: Rhys Rusbatch.
Narrator: Abdul Salis.
Henry: Shane Zaza.
Director: Ellen McDougall.
Designer: James Button.
Lighting: David W Kidd.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.