Henry V: Lion of England, The Wheatsheaf - Review

If you were asked what comes to mind regarding Shakespeare's Henry V, chances are some of the choices would involve England v France, rousing speeches like "Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" and depending on your age, one of the iconic performances by Laurence Oliver, Kenneth Branagh or Tom Hiddleston.

Maverick Theatre's production of Henry V: Lion of England succinctly distills all the play’s drama and realpolitik into a 70 minute one-man... or rather one-woman show. Exhibiting the same qualities of the eponymous monarch (amongst others) that she plays – fearlessness, a deep reserve of energy and oratory eloquence – Eleanor Dillon-Reams as the Chorus is Kipling's poem If... made flesh. 'Walking' with kings and clergy, but not losing the common touch.

Performed in the upstairs bar of the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia – the West End, the agéd venue reminds one of the drinking taverns that Henry (or rather Prince Hal) frequented during his younger days in Shakespeare's Henry IV - a fitting venue indeed! Those expecting a quiet, sedentary performance will have their expectations blown away. Making use of the four corners of the room (including on top of the bar!) Dillon-Reams throws herself as much into the physicality of all the characters as their motivations and vocal delivery, giving a truly committed performance.

It has to be said the evening wasn't based solely on Shakespeare's account on Henry V, but on other historical evidence as well. This being the case, Shakespeare's dialogue doesn't adorn the play from beginning to end. Nor is it necessary for anyone to have prior knowledge of Henry V before seeing the show. The way the show has been written and performed, events and historical references are explained in laymen's terms, but not at the detriment of the storytelling. In any event, there's something there for everyone and the show can be enjoyed on a number of levels simultaneously.

As epic as King Henry's story is, what I responded to in the show was the attention to detail in the ‘smaller’ moments, which conversely were the most important. Would the Battle of Agincourt have been fought if the personal feelings and motives of various parties were not sold as matters of state? Food for thought.

There has in the past been Shakespeare-related one-man shows by the likes of Ian McKellan, but these on the whole, have been anecdotal and have not begun to come close to what's been achieved at the Wheatsheaf. Between the writing, the direction of Katie Merritt and the tour-de-force performance of Dillon-Reams, this is an extraordinary artistic collaboration, where to use the age-old adage: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

© Michael Davis

Henry V: Lion of England runs at the Wheatsheaf, 25 Rathbone Place, London, W1T 1DG until 20th June 2015.


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