Propeller Theatre Company’s all-male version of [William Shakespeare’s] Henry V is a not just a fantastic production – it is an absolute theatrical masterpiece. I say that right away as there is so much that can be said about this brilliant company and superb production that there may not be enough room to fit it all in.
On entering the auditorium it is very noticeable that the stark metal gantry that surrounds the stage and four munitions boxes are almost all that grace the otherwise bare stage. A flagpole adorned with the flag of St George is the only break in the otherwise perfect symmetry. Suddenly, from the back of the auditorium, the sound of soldiers singing fills the theatre. Thus begins a production which uses the full auditorium to tell this historic tale.
The first words in the piece encourage the audience to let their imagination help create the horses, the thousands of soldiers and other instruments of battle that the confines of a theatre cannot hold. Then, together with those few props and 14 superb actors create the illusion of everything from a landing craft crossing the English Channel to a watchtower on the battlefield at Agincourt.
Director Edward Hall – recently nominated as best director in this year’s Evening Standard awards – and designer Michael Pavelka have crafted this production carefully. The text has been edited by Roger Warren to make it punchy and dramatic, and the whole thing is brought into loud and bright reality by Ben Ormerod and David Gregory, who have designed the lighting and sound to perfectly augment each scene.
Most of the cast take on several roles in the production and, despite that, their depiction of each character is clear and unique and is worthy of note – especially Dugald Bruce-Lockhart who is suitably regal in the title role. Tony Bell as Mistress Quickly makes an unlikely-looking woman as does Chris Myles who simultaneously creates the characters of both the Duke of Exeter and French handmaiden Alice, by wearing a moustache, with a soldier’s uniform on his top half over a calf-length skirt.
It would be hopelessly unfair to pick out one performance above the others in this extremely accomplished company. However, Karl Davies in the three roles he takes is quite simply fantastic. The scene where he appears as the French Princess Katherine who, while taking a bath, tries to learn the English names for various body parts from her maid Alice is comic genius.
All the players are also very talented singers and musicians and, as well as performing a number of songs during the performance, ranging from a requiem to “London Calling” by The Clash, they also entertained the audience during the interval. Raising money for Lifeworks, a charity that helps children with special needs, their renditions of songs like “Wild rover” and “Sloop John B” had the whole foyer singing along and donating generously to help this worthy cause.