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Henry V review at Barn Theatre, Cirencester – ‘fresh, intelligent, high-energy production’

Aaron Sidwell in Henry V at Barn Theatre, Cirencester. Photo: Eve Dunlop
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Hal Chambers’ fresh, contemporary and pacy staging of Shakespeare’s play of pageantry and patriotism takes a hard look at the ugliness of war and the futile pursuit of glory. Nobody comes out of it particularly well.

In the title role, Aaron Sidwell plays Henry as a hard-drinking, hard-partying City lad unused to hard work and the idea of taking responsibility for others. His coming-of-age story is as significant as his growth in kingship.

The King of France is here a Queen (Sarah Waddell). This provides a different dynamic in the scenes when she offers her daughter as a prize. Lauren Samuels makes a delightfully mischievous Princess Katharine, who takes great pleasure in winding up her future husband with her erratic attempts at learning English.

The production engages with British populism. The ‘underclass’ characters aren’t played for laughs. Their anger hits disturbingly close to the bone. Emily Leonard’s industrial scaffolding set, the projections by Ben Collins, the use of strobe lighting and rave music, all further contribute to a mood of volatility.

Although modern-dress Shakespeare hasn’t been a novelty for decades, and few of the elements are totally original in themselves, the year-old new producing venue has struck the right balance with this production. A staging of energy, intelligence and coherence, it’s likely to appeal both to younger as well as more established audience members.

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High-energy, urgent production of Shakespeare's history play for populist times