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Henry V review at Ustinov Studio, Bath – ‘a slow-burning staging’

Heledd Gwynn and Ben Hall in Henry V at Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Craig Fuller

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, never afraid of treading new paths, has taken temporary leave of its Bristol home to launch the Theatre Royal Bath summer season with a slow-burning modern dress version of Henry V.

It is the first time the company has tackled the most straight-forward of the Histories, and director Elizabeth Freestone opens up with a flashback to the loud-mouthed brand of debauchery that Henry has left behind in Eastcheap.

The upshot is that the warrior king, played by Ben Hall, grandson of Bath summer season founder Peter Hall, fails to display either resolution or authority until reaching the battlefields of France.

Once here, however, there is a realistic, at times brutally grim view of warfare, with Hall finding a voice of steel for the first time in Henry`s Crispin`s Day oration, after a night spent mixing with his men.

Much of the casting is gender neutral with Joanne Howarth playing both the Duke of Burgundy and a Chorus strong on narrative, but only occasionally discovering the rhythm of Shakespeare`s majestic verse. Among the military rank and file, Rosie Armstrong brings a poignant quality to the put-upon foot soldier Williams.

Designer Lily Arnold`s pitch-black walled set is a powerful surround for the battle scenes, although not for Henry`s wooing of Heledd Gwynn`s skin-headed, bovver-booted Princess Katharine, who strangely doubles for her brother, the Dauphin.

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Shakespeare`s game of thrones contains strong battlefield scenes, but is less surefooted the rest of the time