Henry V @ The Tramshed

I have found that it can be difficult to make Shakespeare’s history plays engaging as most audiences do not find them as interesting as his other work. This is why The Merely Players’ Henry V was a pleasant surprise, and what makes this contemporary adaptation more interesting is director Scott Ellis’ gender-blind casting.

After the death of his father, Henry V (Zena Carswell) becomes King of England. When the King of France mocks him by sending him tennis balls, Henry decides to invade France. He proves to be a successful leader, walking amongst his troupes and going into battle himself. Henry triumphantly leads England to victory, and in the end of the play, his marriage to the French King’s daughter Catherine establishes a strong relationship between the two countries.

The performance has some very notable aspects which makes it a great piece. Ellis has used a football setting for the play, transferring the war between the two countries into a match between two teams. This transformation is appropriate, as both are about camaraderie and triumph. As there are only five actors, the use of the football shirts helps the audience differentiate between the characters, and highlights the different sides. I especially liked the use of the shirts during the scene where Henry discovers he has been betrayed by Scroop, Cambridge and Grey. Hanging the shirts on a washing line allowed Carswell’s Henry to interrogate the three conspirators perfectly, but also brought elements of comedy to this scene. It was very interesting to watch.

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Carswell is very powerful as Henry, and she is able to easily convince the audience of her ability to lead a country to triumph. Emmy Rose’s portrayal of Catherine is very elegant, and when playing the Boy, she is very funny, especially during the translation scene. Equally, Stephen Leask, as Catherine’s lady-in-waiting Alice, is hilarious. The audience could not stop laughing every time he appeared on stage. The team work well as an ensemble, switching between each role seamlessly and presenting each character convincingly to the audience. Even though there were just five of them on stage, the team perfectly presented the play’s “thousand parts”.

The company’s stripped-back approach allows the audience to focus on Shakespeare’s language and the characters. The added bonus is that Ellis has fit everything into 90 minutes. Yes this means some of the plot is subtracted from the play, but for this type of production, in this venue especially, the length is perfect. Additionally, the company’s gender-blind casting gives the talented female actors an opportunity to take on Shakespeare’s great roles. The Merely Players have created a very entertaining and engaging adaptation of Henry V.

Dirty Special Thing @ Platform Theatre

I can’t remember the last time I watched new and emerging talent on stage, so Generation ArtsDirty Special Thing at the Platform Theatre was a real treat. The company provides acting and theatre training projects for young people who have not been able to achieve academic qualifications, particularly those in marginalised communities.  The diversity in the auditorium was so refreshing to see, and the audience’s excitement was infectious. I haven’t been in a theatre with that kind of atmosphere in such a long time, and I am so grateful that I was a part of it.

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Set in London, the play is a collection of stories which intertwine with each other, giving the audience a glimpse of different people in the city. The audience is guided through the play by Joseph (great performance by Helder Fernandes), who is training to be a black cab driver. As he drives around the city, we are introduced to various characters like Christian (Sebastian Carrington-Howell), a city banker jealous of his colleague’s success, and Abu (Nestor Sayu), a street cleaner, desperately trying to put money together to take care of his pregnant wife and children. Full of aspects of London life that the audience can relate to, like how expensive everything is, and a shared disgust of the Piccadilly Line, the play combines humour with real life problems, such as the importance of the NHS to everyone in the country.

There are some talented actors in the show who stand out, such as Sayu, who was hilarious on stage. He was actually so fun to watch, and definitely an audience favourite. Carrington-Howell is also very talented, engulfing the character seamlessly. Additionally, Malik-Sankara Watson as Jerome, a great character who works with young people to help them reach their potential, is a brilliant performer.  He was at times funny with his interactions with his girlfriend, and other times, he easily displayed his character’s emotional side, talking sincerely about the death of his younger brother. The rest of the ensemble work great together on stage, engaging the audience perfectly.

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

At times, the action became slightly repetitive, and some parts of the play could have been shorter. But the thought-provoking aspects of the play, such as Moneer Elmasseek as the Big Issue seller, who provides contemplative views on life, is what makes the play so engaging. What was great about the performance was the fact that the actors were a representation of diverse London, which for me made it exciting to watch. It is very refreshing to see this in the theatre, and I think Generation Arts is a great organisation that is trying to make this happen. The audience were reacting magnificently to the performance, and everyone, onstage and off, was very visibly having so much fun. For this, I really enjoyed the show. I hope the diversity demonstrated by the company is something which continues to expand throughout the arts.