In an incredibly exciting new production of Henry V, Damien Ryan will direct his first mainstage production for Bell Shakespeare. A tale about a king who unites a nation with his eloquent words and ideas, his triumphs and humanity.
Ryan’s contemporary take is inspired by a true story; for 57 consecutive nights during the Blitz in 1941, a group of boys stuck in a bunker started a ‘Boy’s Club’, where they would rehearse a new play each week, including Shakespeare’s works and then perform it for the other people in the shelter.
“We don’t know which Shakespeare plays they performed, but with England on the precipice and Churchill comparing the fighter pilots to the “happy few” at Agincourt, it is hard to imagine that a Henry V would not have struck their hearts.” said Ryan.
A prologue from the Chorus, a single character, opens all five acts preparing the audience to think of the stage as the fields in France. The play begins with the young king of England, Henry V, in an angry dialogue with King Charles of France, an argument that escalates into war.
Having been manipulated by church advisors, taunted by French royalty and betrayed by English nobles, the young King Henry invades France in order to claim his right to a kingdom and to the daughter of the King of France.
The climax of the war comes at the famous Battle of Agincourt. As the English forces look towards the heavily armoured and highly skilled French lines, outnumbered five to one, morale of the troops is low. On the day of the battle, Henry rouses his army from their fears with his powerful St Crispin’s Day Speech, a speech that inspires his army to victory.
“It’s the eloquence of this story that has always captured me,” says Ryan. “It’s a celebration of courage, determination, that bullish underdog spirit and the eternal rite of passage that turns boys into men, war.”
“But is also a horrifying indictment of our addiction to conflict and our susceptibility to propaganda and spin.”
This is a story of religious manipulation, loose justifications for pre-emptive conflict, betrayals of trust, the slaughter of prisoners, the possession of women as pawns of imperialism, and the final futility of the exploits of war.
“Shakespeare knew that the pride that makes us great, also makes us monsters and that the things that inspire us can also cost us more than we realise,” says Ryan.
Director: Damien Ryan Cast: Keith Agius, Matthew Backer, Darcy Brown, Gabriel Fancourt, Danielle King, Drew Livingston, Michael Sheasby, Damien Strouthos, Ildiko Susany, Eloise Winestock Designer: Anna Gardiner Lighting Designer: Sian James-Holland Composer & Sound Designer: Steve Francis Vocals Composer: Drew Livingston Movement & Fight Director: Scott Witt Voice & Dialect Coach: Jess Chambers Assistant Director: Susanna Dowling
Bell Shakespeare’s Henry V will tour extensively, playing 32 venues across Australia, including Canberra (14 – 28 June), Melbourne (2 – 12 July), Perth (24 – 26 July) and Sydney (23 October – 15 November).
For more information and booking details, visit: www.bellshakespeare.com.au for details.
Image: Matthew Backer, Drew Livingston & Damien Strouthos – courtesy of Bell Shakespeare