As a reviewer, one is supposed to stick to the adage, ‘the play’s the thing’. However, sometimes when you walk into a performing space you instinctively know that you are about to see something really good. And that was exactly what I thought as I entered the Temple Church to see Antic Disposition’s production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V”
France 1915 and Europe is at war. In a field hospital, a pair of wounded soldiers – one French and one English – have arrived and are being looked after. The Englishman wants to give his French compatriot a gift to thank him for helping him to the hospital, so offers his only possession, a copy of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Seeing an opportunity to bring something of interest to the patients, the nurse and Matron (Louise Templeton) decided to put on a production of the play.
For those unfamiliar with the story, King Henry V of England (Freddie Stewart) spurred on by his bishops and nobles, has laid claim to the throne of France much to the dismay of the present incumbent (Maurice Byrne) and his son The Dauphin (Dean Riley) who decided to send a reply to Henry’s claim in the form of an insulting gift. The Herald Montjoy (Marius Hesper) is dispatched to the English court where Henry, inflamed by the Dauphin’s ‘gift’ establishes an army and sets off to take ‘his’ kingdom. Following their king, the army sets off with nobles such as Henry’s uncle the Duke of Exeter (Geoffrey Towers) and The Earl of Westmoreland (Alex Hooper), leading the sometimes reluctant soldiers including the comic trio of Pistol (Mark Middleton), Bardolph (James Murfitt) and Nym (Alex Hooper). Despite his troops being heavily outnumbered by the French, Henry has his eyes set on the prize, not only the throne of France but also a wife in the shape of Princess Katherine of France (Floriane Andersen). And so the battle lines are drawn and by the end of the day, Agincourt has become famous throughout the world.
This was my first live “Henry V” and I thought it was an absolutely brilliant production of the Shakespearean classic. Performed in The Nave, the production, under directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero, makes fantastic use of the space keeping the action moving at a perfect pace. In addition to Shakespeare’s wonderful words – and more of them in a moment – the costumes by Laura Rushton and lighting by Tom Boucher all added to the wonderful realism of the production. Freddie Stewart is a wonder in the title role and delivers an outstanding performance as the young monarch pursuing a war that he didn’t necessarily want in the first place. As well as the iconic speeches – ‘Once more unto the breach’ and ‘St Crispin’s Day’ – there is a wonderful monologue just before the battle when the king is questioning his plans and actions and preparing himself for the day ahead. Freddie, alone in a single spotlight delivered this beautifully with all the emotion of a man on whose shoulders the world currently sat. There were many other such moments in the play. For example, the poignant farewell of Mistress Quickly to Pistol, Bardolph, Nym and the Boy, brought a lump to the throat.
The addition of musical numbers from composer Christopher Peake and the additional scenes connecting Agincourt with 1915 were sensitively done with the reality of the current war interrupting the ‘performance’ – particularly the end of the first act where James Murfitt was incredibly moving as a sufferer of shell shock severely unable to separate the ‘play’ from ‘reality’. And I have to say the final scene when the war finally returned to its place at the forefront of everything was incredibly moving and I was glad the lights went down so I could swiftly wipe a tear from my eye.
600 years after the original Battle of Agincourt, Antic Disposition have put together a truly amazing production of “Henry V” which, when coupled with the splendour of the Temple Church, left me spellbound and speechless as I left and navigated my way out the Temple and back to a really dull reality
Review by Terry Eastham
Recent RADA graduate Freddie Stewart has been cast in the title role in Shakespeare’s Henry V, in a site specific production that marks award-winning Antic Disposition’s 10th anniversary.
Antic Disposition has won critical acclaim for staging visually striking productions in spectacular historic buildings, including Middle Temple Hall. Henry V, boasting a joint British and French cast, is staged in London’s ancient Temple Church from Monday 24 August – Saturday 5 September.
Freddie Stewart already has several theatre, television and film credits to his name, most recently playing Cassio in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe.
The rest of the joint British/French cast are: Floriane Andersen, Maurice Byrne, Marius Hesper, Andrew Hodges, Alex Hooper, Victor Klein, Mark Middleton, James Murfitt, Dean Riley, Louise Templeton, Geoffrey Towers.
Set in a French military hospital in 1915, Henry V marks both the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the ongoing centenary of the First World War. Using fast-paced storytelling, original songs and live music, the uplifting production celebrates the rich and turbulent relationship between Britain and France, from the Hundred Years War to the Entente Cordiale.
Antic Disposition, founded 10 years ago by director Ben Horslen and director/designer John Risebero, triumphed last year at the Peter Brook / Empty Space Awards, winning the coveted Peter Brook / Equity Ensemble Award.
Located in the secluded and tranquil heart of London’s legal quarter between Fleet Street and the River Thames, Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th-century and is one of London’s most beautiful and historic buildings. Perhaps best known for its unusual round form and stone effigies of medieval knights, Temple Church became famous more recently as a key location in Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code.
Henry V is directed by Ben Horslen and John Risebero, who also designs, with songs and musical direction by Christopher Peake, additional music by James Burrows and lighting design by Tom Boucher.
Antic Disposition presents Henry V by William Shakespeare
24 August – 5 September
Monday – Saturday at 7.45pm
Saturday matinees at 3pm
London, EC4Y 7BB
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Book online at www.anticdisposition.co.uk
Tuesday 25th August 2015