Review: Henry V

Once more unto the Arts Theatre, dear friends, once more.

Art Theatre Cambridge Henry V Shakespeare Theatre yay

The Marlowe Society’s annual professionally directed Arts Theatre production is always going to be slick.  The real challenge—at the risk of stating the obvious—is in getting the right cast, and in getting the most out of that cast.  Henry V does the latter better than the former, but strong production and consistently good across-the-board acting stop that from being too big an issue.

Mark Milligan is clearly good at acting.  He seemed to grasp the verse with ease: the multiple kingly speeches flowed crisply off his tongue.  One couldn’t help but feel, though, that his style is more suited to the Richard III school of Shakespearean kingship than to the gravitas and blokey masculinity required of Harry.

Certain scenes, such as the famous ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech become vaguely comical rather than moving or inspirational, the gun awkwardly grasped in his hands limiting his expressiveness.  However, he does warm up in the second half and in some scenes he really shines, showing good comic timing, for instance, when he has to woo Catharine in bad French.


The rest of the casting is solid: Aoife Kennan is a fantastic Chorus, even if the director cuts some of her best lines, and Seb Sutcliffe is a suitably sinister and smug Dauphin.

Although Sam Grabiner’s attempt at a Welsh accent as Fluellen becomes increasingly dubious over the course of the play – at times Tom Jones, at times more like Bob Marley – he helped make the more tedious parts of the play watchable and funny. Alongside Will Flinn, he had the whole crowd chuckling during an argument about a leek.

Ed Eustace certainly looks the part as the King of France but he, too, seems to fail in his attempts to put on an accent, sounding more like a pantomime villain or cheesy Bond baddy. Conversely, Léa de Garnier des Garets‘s comical English lesson was heavily exaggerated but in a way that really worked.

The broad ‘vision’ of the play is a pleasingly pared-down one: the Chorus makes it clear that we’re going to have to use our imagination to turn the Arts Theatre’s ‘little O’ into the ‘vasty fields of France’, so the lack of any real scenery and the ever-popular camo-and-suits dress code work pretty well.  (On an minor note, though, it was frustrating that nobody intervened to undo the lower button of King Henry’s suit jacket.)

Subtle but clever lighting helped create a more ominous atmosphere; modern music (which sometimes overpowered the actors) was juxtaposed with choral music to nicely reflect the overall adaptation.

The production as a whole is polished and accomplished, as you would expect: it was clear that there were professionals involved. However, it only goes to show how well done many ADC shows can be – and how much potential some of our resident actors have.

There are few dreary moments, no particularly weak links in the cast, and it is technically accomplished. If you can spare the extra few quid to go to the Arts Theatre, it’s certainly worth the trip.

68: a strong 2:1.