Harry the King

This is a solid performance of a classic play which, while it doesn't amount to a re-telling in anything but the literal sense, does a creditable job of rendering the whole thing with two actors and and a minimal set.

This approach does make the play extremely difficult to follow for anyone who isn't reasonably familiar with it already.

Shakespeare's Henry V follows the life of English King Henry Plantagenet from his accession to the throne through to his famous Battle of Agincourt, in which English forces beat the French despite being vastly outnumbered. Harry the King is a heavily edited production of the original play. They've managed to get it down to an hour's running time by including only those scenes which directly relate to the character of Henry. All the famous speeches are there, along with a few bits (such as Henry's decision to kill all the French prisoners after the Battle of Agincourt) which are sometimes cut.

The two actors’ performances are certainly the strongest thing about this production. Lucy Fyffe's Henry brings a welcome pathos to the role (though she is less convincing in the 'leader of men' scenes) and her delivery of the speeches is captivating. Sally O'Leary is a highly skilled actor, playing every other part in the play with ease. Unfortunately, the way the play has been cut means she almost always plays a fairly anonymous role that exists only to feed Henry lines, so she gets few opportunities to shine. When she is given an actual character to play, such as the French ambassador or the Princess of France, she really comes into her own.

The decision to cut in this way was a bold one. To get the play down to one hour, more than half of it had to go. The production also has to wrestle with the fact that in the original script there are rarely fewer than four or five characters on stage. They therefore had to edit it in such a way that O'Leary could coherently play everyone. The result is certainly quite striking; it shows all the important things Henry does or says back to back and it does throw a certain light on the character to have everything in such quick succession. However, this approach does make the play extremely difficult to follow for anyone who isn't reasonably familiar with it already.

The blurb for this production informs us that an English national legend is going to be taken “by the scruff of the neck”. The decisions to stage it with only two female actors and even to go so far as renaming the play suggest you're in for something radical and exciting. In fact, this is simply an edited highlights. It doesn't bring a fresh interpretation to the play, it just selects a particular reading (one which is strongly present in the text already) and presents it essay-style, with all extraneous bits cut out. The result is that if you are familiar enough with the play to understand their edit, you're likely to be a bit disappointed at the absence of the character investigation you were promised.

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The Blurb

Henry V: legendary king or brutal soldier? War criminal or star of England? From a couple's bedroom to the field of Agincourt and back again, two actors re-stage Shakespeare's epic of conquest, conflict and dilemma. A hundred years after France was torn apart by the First World War, Harry the King takes an English national legend by the scruff of the neck. Mingled Yarn is an emerging company dedicated to creating new theatre out of old stories, spinning a good yarn along the way.

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