Henry V

Opera House, Wellington

29/02/2012 - 04/03/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

“Shakespeare as it should be done, fast, sinuous and surprising.” The Independent (UK)

Celebrated for combining a rigorous approach to the text with an exciting, physical aesthetic, all-male Shakespearian company Propeller brings two of the Bard’s most popular plays to the 2012 Festival: Henry V and The Winter’s Tale.

Artistic Director Edward Hall’s inventive approach has seen A Comedy of Errors set on a tacky 1980s package holiday island and Richard III in a Victorian hospital. Hall’s Winter’s Tale is a nightmare of family disintegration. Wrote The Daily Telegraph: “Can you care for a heavily pregnant queen brought to the point of death by the accusations of her insanely jealous husband when she’s played by a balding thirty-something bloke with what looks like a pillow stuffed up his dress? The answer, in Edward Hall’s superlative all-male production of The Winter’s Tale, is a resounding ‘yes’.”

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Henry V tells the tale of the greatest British warrior in English folklore. At a time when increasing numbers of British servicemen and women are seeing active service, Propeller brings its own unique take to the story. Dangerous, thrilling and deeply moving, Henry V travels from the corridors ofWestminster to the battlefields ofFrance.

Wrote The Independent of Propeller: The overriding feeling is of a Shakespeare pulsing with muscular life – fresh, physical and utterly modern.’’ Edward Hall is also Artistic Director of the Hampstead Theatre,London, and the son of renowned British theatre director Sir Peter Hall.

Henry V and The Winter’s Tale

are at the Opera House

from 29 February to 4 March

as part of the 2012 New Zealand International Arts Festival, Wellington, 24 February – 18 March.

Tickets $38 – $78 available from Ticketek. Save 15% when you buy an A or B ticket for both Henry V and The Winter’s Tale. 

Review by Charles Bisley 02nd Mar 2012

What this assured performance of Henry V gave us above all was a forceful story. A story in which the action and the lines propelled each other forward – a sustained and considerable feat! Both served to present the legendary warrior king of the English narrative in a modern and compelling guise. And to raise old questions about power and violence.

The actors began as they meant to continue, marching down through the audience as grunts singing lustily, before taking hold of the stage, and then morphing into the chorus, and then the ecclesiastics and court attendant on their king. The configuring and reconfiguring of bodies in space, and of roles was dynamic, amped up and up by the impending crisis of the battle ahead. Within the confines of their scaffold (and the proscenium arch of the Opera House), the actors did wonderfully in projecting story out into an imaginary space they shared with the audience. [More


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Squaddies, blood, sweat and tears in a macho Henry V

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Mar 2012

“Piece out out imperfections with your thoughts: /Into a thousand parts divide one man,” says the Chorus at the beginning of Henry V.

In Propeller’s striking, macho and often thrilling production the Chorus is divided into fifteen men, all dressed as squaddies who might well be on their way toAfghanistanor theFalklands. At times they also sing during the play and in the interval a whole range of songs from the Pogues to hymns.

This production allows you to make up your own mind whether Henry is a war criminal or a hero. The heroic speeches are not clarion calls to glory because the horror of war is made all too evident throughout; blood, sweat, tears and dirt are all around.

The humour is played to the full with Mistress Quickly as a panto dame and scenes not often played for strong comedy are enlivened by such things as the Dauphin doing press ups in his excitement before going into battle, Princess Katharine has a leg shaved in her bath, and Henry’s claim to the French throne is a very long family tree indeed.

There is one superb moment after the battle ofAgincourtbefore the English realise they have won. A shocked and wounded Mountjoy, the French herald, kneels in a daze, Henry drops to his knees, bows his head in exhaustion, and some bloodied soldiers gaze at nothing. The moment is broken when victory is announced and then the roll call of the dead is read out.

The play moves with speed with the strong physical performances from the soldiers as they clamber about the metal gantry of the set. At times the clarity of speech is sacrificed for the physical actions but the storyline is always clear. This is truly exciting theatre and I look forward to tomorrow night’s The Winter’s Tale with mounting excitement.   


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Solid, bold, and often very brave in 'becoming' the story

Review by Lori Leigh 01st Mar 2012

Fourteen actors storm the stage singing, amidst the audience, with the house lights in full beam, to collectively assume the role of the Chorus — a role shared by the company throughout. Preshow, the audience is subjected to menacing men stalking the foyer in black balaclavas preparing us to enter the world of war. This electric ensemble work which begins Propeller’s Henry V is enthralling and the highlight of the entire production.

Last night Henry V (the play that may have opened the newly constructed Globe of 1599) launched the first work by Shakespeare to appear this year in the International Arts Festival. (It will soon be followed by The Winter’s Tale, also presented by Propeller, and then Troilus and Cressida from Shakespeare’s Globe,London.) 

Propeller is an all-male Shakespeare company “which mixes a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic.” Director Edward Hall (unsurprisingly, son of famous Shakespearean director Sir Peter Hall), states Propeller’s mission is “to rediscover Shakespeare simply by doing the plays as we believe they should be done: with great clarity, speed and full of as much imagination in staging as possible. We don’t want to make the plays ‘accessible’, as this implies that they need dumbing down in order to be understood, which they don’t.” Brilliant.

Propeller’s Henry V is an eloquent execution of their stated purpose of performance. The men play not only myriad characters (many of them doubling or even tripling roles), but also an assortment of instruments from pennywhistle to accordion, which they use to delightfully entertain the audience in the foyer at the interval. 

Just as the Chorus promises in Henry V, the ensemble imaginatively transports the audience geographically – fromEngland toFrance – and chronologically through the story of the epic warrior-king.

Though the ensemble work is unbeatable, individuals are also inviting, especially Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as the title king. It is with bated breath we often anticipate memorable passages such as the ‘Crispin day’ speech. Often I end up disappointed simply because of the weight put on such moments, but Bruce-Lockhart rises to the challenge of making the speech before the famous battle fresh and rousing, not only to his onstage troops but also for the audience. Blood-smeared and sweaty, Henry touches his soldiers’ arms predicting their battle scars with warmth and charisma in his delivery.

Another captivating performance is Tony Bell as the Welsh Captain Fluellen, who skilfully captures the comedy.

Propeller even manages to defy the limitations of the proscenium arch stage at the Opera House by creating the actor-audience intimacy integral to the success of any Shakespearean production.  Exemplar of this is Act Three when Henry and the English army are before the gates of Harfleur. Positioned on the upper level of the set — created by the movable scaffolding that is its centrepiece — Henry is surrounded by his army who shine massive lights into the dress circle of the Opera House and onto the Governor of Harfleur, who answers Henry’s demands to enter with a megaphone. Literally (and perhaps also metaphorically), most of the audience is between Henry and the gates of the town.

Another clever choice by the company is placing a bath in the scene between Princess Catherine of France (Henry’s bride to be) and her gentlewoman Alice. The bath provides an excellent piece of staging for the “English lesson” in pronunciation of body parts. The scene gets an additional laugh on “de nick” as Catherine cuts her leg shaving. It is a charming and humorous opening to the second half.

This is also where my challenges to this production arise. While it is true that the role of Catherine brings (and should bring) much needed comedy to Henry V, the role also offers the potential for romance and contemplation of deeper issues such as the nature of relationships fostered (or forced) from social and political institutions. Propeller’s all male production misses these opportunities completely. This is most telling when, at the pivotal moment Henry and Catherine are to kiss, the actors instead simply place their hands on one another’s lips thus destroying lines such as Henry’s “You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate. There is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them than in the tongues of the French Council …” 

For a company that encourages its audiences, as Shakespeare constantly does in his work, to look below the surface, why present such ‘surface’ performances of female roles in this production? With choices such as these, what is the purpose of presenting the play ‘all male’?

There are also a few other (more minor) dramatic mishaps in the production. Bardolph, Henry’s friend from earlier plays, is executed for stealing by Fluellen’s order before King Henry arrives on the scene, making Henry’s “We would have all such offenders so cut off” simply a seal of approval on an act that has already happened. In Shakespeare’s play, however, it is clear that Bardolph has not been executed before Henry appears. Fluellen refers to Bardolph as “one that is like to be executed” or likely to be executed. The dramatic function of this chronology of events is that Henry can still choose to save Bardolph’s life and this choice is a meaningful one; helpful for understanding the development of Henry’s character.

Despite these qualms (from a very finicky Shakespearean), Propeller’s Henry V is an exceptional piece of theatre that not only trusts the text but embraces it. The actors not only ‘tell story’ but ‘become story’ in a way that is solid, bold, and often very brave.  


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