Printable CopyHENRY V
University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
The Little Theatre
Until 20 May 2017

Review by Linda Edwards

“Henry V” is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous history play, but it is also one of the most accessible, being full of humour and themes that resonate with today’s audiences as well as they did in the past.

In director Megan Dansie’s production, a group of patients recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are encouraged by their therapist to produce the play as part of their therapy. The idea originates in the fact that Shakespeare has been used for many years as a form of therapy for prison inmates and war veterans suffering from PTSD. “Henry V” works particularly well with this idea because it embodies the story of transformation of an unsure young man with a wild and reckless past to a powerful and confident ruler who must deal with the consequences of his decisions and the violence of war. The war he initiates culminates in the Battle of Agincourt in October 1415, when his troops defeat the French despite being outnumbered five to one.

Dansie has a wonderful cast to work with, led by Nick Duddy, who is close to perfect as Henry. He brings several dimensions to the role, being believably gentle and wise, and rising to become a powerful and inspirational leader. The therapist (Peter Davies) takes on the role of Chorus in the play, and he is an authoritative and natural leader of the proceedings. Also impressive are Lindsay Dunn, Robert Bell, Georgia Stockham, and Tony Busch, all in multiple roles.

“Henry V” is far from being a dry historical drama. It is also a very funny play, and in this production Matt Houston in particular is outstanding, extracting every morsel of comedy from the Welsh character Fluellen in every scene in which he appears. Dylan O’Donnell is also hilarious as the Scot, Jamy. Georgia Stockham is a delight as Mistress Quickly, as is Gary George as Pistol, and the pair have a great rapport on stage. Another standout comical scene is one in which Katherine (beautifully played by Ellie McPhee) is being taught French by Alice (Angela Short).

Many of the actors play multiple roles, and it is notable that in almost every case their characters are so well-defined that it is difficult to tell that the same actor is playing the roles. Robert Bell’s Gower and the Constable of France, for example, differ markedly in body language, posture and speech. Similarly, Georgia Stockham’s Mistress Quickly and the Queen of France are vastly different from each other.

Costumes reinforce the mix of modern (such as tee shirts and military uniforms) and historical (including fleur-de-lis emblems on tee shirts and projected on the rear wall). Simple present day props such as the therapy room chairs are used to great effect as battlements, and gunfire replaces the sounds of sword fights of the period. The use of music is also a highlight of the evening, with the choral piece “Non Nobis” being especially moving.