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Review of Henry V by William Shakespeare performed by The Masque Theatre at Abington Park, Northampton

William Shakespeare's Henry V was the sixteenth play that I have seen performed by Masque Theatre and I have to say it is the first that I didn't really enjoy. It was not though because of the performances though, as any play that has someone with the commanding presence such as Scott Bradley as the titular King is never going to be a disappointment. His "breaching" through the audience with the immortal line of "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more" shook those present and unprepared. However no matter how brilliant the lines were delivered, their drive was lost in a rather ponderous staging of the siege of Harfleur, as the army marched forward to the unseen forces and then rather bizarrely shuffled backwards to do the progression again a few moments later. For me it was this scene that told me much of the sadly lacking of ambition of this production over those many Shakespeare's I have seen in the last couple of years.

It's not that I ever would wish to compare amateur productions with their bigger budget companions and those with less time constraints, but for me Henry V was very disappointing even compared with the fun and inventiveness of Masque's Much Ado and the shear brilliant visual and stlylish spectacle of Macbeth. It was genuinely only during the later battle of Agincourt that at least some scale felt it was being achived, this managed to bring the battle forth in arms reach of the audience.

Another area where Henry V felt a little bit staid was it unremitting keenness to be perfectly pure to the original and stick with the tiresome male casting. Two years ago I saw in Much Ado a quite brilliant female Watch from Masque and since then in shows from the University I have seen a superb female Malcolm in Macbeth, and a brilliant female trio of Pistol, Nym and Bardolph in Merry Wives and finally last month's gender switching/age switching Tempest in the Royal have all been bold. Henry V had none of this braveness and presented a version you might easily have seen four hundred years ago.

So perhaps for the purists it was perfect? Well maybe it might have been, except for the almost against odds decision to take a hatchet to the play and remove great swathes of the script. So for the purists happy that there wasn't a female going to battle, or a lady playing Pistol, they found they were not even getting close to the whole play. Why this at odds decision with no other bravery on casting?

What we did get though were many brilliant performances from the cast. The previously mentioned Scott Bradley, a face new to me, was close to being one of the best single performances from Masque I have seen, putting as much if not more emotion into his speeches than many a professional performer. Other notables was a brilliant audience engaging chorus performance from Mark Farey, effortlessly playing to the audience in that way that feels they are just talking to you.

Despite the disappointment already mentioned, I did also like all the scenes featuring Pistol (Roger Toone), Bardolph (Robert Kendall, in for an indisposed Owen Warr), Nym (Anthony Janney) and Mistress Quickley (April Pardoe). These scenes provided much light relief and although they were sadly brief in their number. Mention must go to Martin Williams authoritative take on the Constable of France, always a reliable presence when he is seen to be in the cast. Finally, Barry Dougall, never a disappoint, gaining every single ounce of comedy from every line and often just a word, he was once again a star as Captain Fluellen.

So yes, I was clearly disappointed in this production staging and casting wise. There could certainly have been more drive in many scenes, and I also felt that there could have been a little more use of music between scenes as well to bring a little bit more drama to proceedings. Without question, I am certain an opportunity to gender switch was missed. Sadly this well known tale of Agincourt needed grabbing and shaking for the twenty-first century and at the end of it for me, this production was sadly just lacking in style because it wasn't. Shakespeare by numbers and a real missed opportunity.

Performance reviewed: Friday 5th August, 2016 at the Abington Park Museum, Northampton. 

Henry V was performed by the Masque Theatre between Thursday 28th July, 2016 and Saturday 6th at Abington Park Museum, Northampton.

Masque has a website for details of upcoming shows at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/

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