In recent times, Shakespeare’s classic military narrative Henry V has boasted all-female casts and female leads to great effect. However, in a return to Jacobean tradition, director Dr Miles Gregory invites all, irrespective of class or creed, to cheer for an English king and his ambition in the all-male war play.
Written around 1599, this is a tale of a youth’s grandiose ambition and imperial endeavour; a glimpse into one of the major events during the Hundred Years’ War and a legacy story to boot.
However, the success of this production is not the timelessness of a war narrative but, rather, the superb and complex portrait of humanity that is carefully crafted by its creatives.
Deeply poetic and unquestionably dramatic, the production is offered to us through a local custodian in a high-vis vest: Michael Mahony.
Pushing a cart of cleaning supplies and often supporting the troops by brandishing a mop, he is our guide for this almost three-hour-long production. Perfectly articulate and wonderfully familiar, our modern-day janitor invites us into a timeless work replete with sword fights, flaming arrows and fabulous costumes at every turn.
Chris Huntly-Turner plays the redoubtable Henry. Persuasive, passionate and poised, his impassioned speech has the crowd listening in hushed silence.
The company consists of excellent performers and they create rich, compelling and crisp characters. Stanley Jackson as the Dauphin, Rawiri Paratene as Exeter and Joe Dekkers-Reihana deserve a special mention, especially the latter as Princess Katherine.
Gregory’s experience as a director, but also as a lover of Shakespeare, is reflected in this production where all performers are equal players. To his credit, there is much humour in this heavily testosterone-fuelled narrative and Oscar West’s music adds a throbbing drum beat to the soundtrack of the play.
The audience interaction is just right and, whatever inclinations we have towards the Crown as New Zealanders, the effective rabble-rousing techniques bring excitement and participation that takes us right back to the London of old or at least as we would begin to imagine it.
Henry V was never one of my favourite plays; thank you Dr Gregory and your talented company for changing my mind.