Henry V - The Lion of England

Henry V- The Lion of England
Written by Nick Hennegan
Performed by Elle Dillon-Reams

The Wheatsheaf (London)
Until Sunday 14th June

I love London's hidden fringe venues, this was my first visit to the Wheatsheaf, near Tottenham Court Road. Their theatre - an upstairs room with antiquated paintings adorning the walls and black fabric taped to the windows in a bid to keep out the warm June sun - played host to Maverick Theatre's 'Henry V - The Lion of England', and it is without a doubt a fitting space for this show - it's a small show, with an absolutely massive heart, and the intimacy of the space at the Wheatsheaf adds all the more to the experience. It is Shakespeare as I have never seen it before.

With 84% of Shakespeare's characters being male, casting a woman (Elle Dillon-Reams) to play all of the parts in this scintillating and fervent retelling, is certainly one way of tackling gender disparity in theatre. Maverick Theatre were originally looking for a male OR a female to play the role - either would have worked - but it was new and mightily refreshing to see a woman on stage delivering the Henry war speeches, with just as much gusto and passion as I've ever seen any male perform them. Also, it kind of didn't make much of a difference, the story is the story, all the same.

Dillon-Reams is an incredibly versatile actress, with an almighty presence. Her energy is colossal, she had us hooked from the off, and even more so once she explained that she was about to pretend to be the Archbishop of Canterbury (using a robe to signify this). Much of the joy in this production is in the pretending. Sections of the original script are housed within a modern day script written by Nick Hennegan. He explains our need to employ our imaginations, and that we may need to concentrate, for Shakespeare is very wordy, a rumble of laughter came from the audience at this point - whether you've been made to study Shakespeare at school, or grace the RSC on a regular basis, I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that need to employ all of your concentration. However, for this show, you really don't - it tears through the story at breakneck speed (a joyful 1h20) Dillon-Reams skilfully jumps from character to character with clarity and skill, it's funny, it's powerful - the battle of Agincourt is written and performed in such a way it becomes vivid in your mind's eye, and is reminiscent of so many other battles in history, and not dissimilar to so many being fought today, as we are gently reminded in the epilogue.

It's a really great show for a summer's afternoon or evening, but you only have today (mat, eve) and tomorrow (mat, eve) to catch it. Great venue (though warm in the summer - take a bottle of water in), a space well suited to this powerful show - it's a new kind of Shakespeare, which breaks all the rules, I'm glad to have discovered it.

(C) Amie Taylor 2015