Review: Propeller’s Henry V

Tony Bell (Mistress Quickly), Vince Leigh (Pistol) & company. Photo Manuel Harlan

Comedy of Errors and Richard III first introduced me to Edward Hall’s Propeller company last year, but it doesn’t take much to realise this theatre group is something special: a team of people (and they are very much a team) playing Shakespeare with all the simplicity, fearlessness and enjoyment that Shakespeare deserves. Their approach doesn’t seem that complicated: they will do anything to make the plays fly. Nothing is out of bounds: songs (any songs), pop culture references, gags, slapstick, gore (of course) and cross dressing (it’s an all male company) are the norm. The more limited their means, the more imaginative the use of the smallest prop or sound. On the other hand, this is not a “throw it to the wall and see what sticks” approach. The end results are so crisp and fluent that easily betray the discipline by which the plays are approached.

Henry V is very much within that tradition: irish songs blend with The Class’ London Calling, frenetic scenes blend with the poetic language, rich sound textures blend with silence. And there are tennis balls. And a musical interval. However, there is a problem at the centre of this production of Henry V: at no point could I connect with or be interested in Dugald Bruce-Lockart who played the title role. My knowledge of british history  (or the play for that matter) is flimsy and I don’t have specific expectations from the character. But I couldn’t see who this person was. He didn’t seem neither a leader, fighter, king, thinker, and definitely not someone I would want to follow into battle. I know I am harsh, but when he was on, the play seemed a parody, the film Hot Shots! comes to mind. In a production where men play women and the result is both tender and funny, he seemed completely out of place.

Everything else seemed perfect. All other characters, foot soldiers, con men, traitors, french kings, french princesses, were all immensely involving. Two special mentions: Tony Bell, playing Mistress Quickly and Fluellen, his welsh soldier was particularly well judged and rounded. And Karl Davies playing Katherine, Boy and Scroop. It’s difficult to find three more diverse roles. He was able to go from one to the other with total conviction and breakneck speed, and his Katherine in particular was a delight. He has come a long way from Kingdom (and I still remember him very clearly in The Great Game).

After seeing this production, I look forward to Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale next week, it promises to be a triumph. And I salivate in the prospect of seeing Tom Hiddleston playing Henry V at the BBC’s Hollow Crown season.

3 responses to “Review: Propeller’s Henry V

  1. Sadly, I never caught Propeller’s Henry V. I started following them relatively soon after their beginnings at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor (Newbury) and heard a friend talk about about a summer performance of the play in which the audience and actors exited the theatre and into the idyllic gardens for the final battle!
    I have been watching the company since Rose Rage, their two part version of Henry VI 1, 2 and 3, and have been thrilled by them ever since. Despite being an English graduate, I had never really understood what all the fuss about Shakespeare was for. Within the first few minutes of Rose Rage, I knew (and this highlights how worthy, poor or downright pretentious so much stage Shakespeare is). In the last seven years or so, I have seen their production of The Winter’s Tale four times. What did you think of Autolycus? (He’s played by Tony Bell, Propeller’s finest comic actor).
    I am looking forward to the autumn season!

    • You have so much more Propeller history / experience / pleasure than I have! I loved The Winter’s Tale, especially the second half, which, let’s face it, was made for Propeller. Autolycus / Tony Bell is a marvel, completely effortless, once you see this, you can’t imagine it done any other way. And I had the distinct pleasure to be flirted on as I was on first row. I will be writing a review soon, just other things briefly took priority.
      Thanks for your comments 🙂

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