Last year Bell Shakespeare blew my mind with a production of Henry IV that was inspired. This year they’re back with Henry V and have done an amazing job again.
Henry V is a more difficult play in being more serious and having the worst aspects of war in it, but they’ve done something really clever and wonderful in this production by setting it in a schoolroom during the London blitz.
A teacher, to buck-up his student’s spirits, gets them to act out plays and for most of the production the performance of Henry V is kept firmly in the context of teenage players and bombs falling beyond the classroom walls. It adds some further darkness to the play, but also highlights certain aspects of both Henry V as a king and the awfulness of war.
It neatly gave them an excuse to start with a snippet of Henry IV that explains a little of Henry V’s character, which was fun.
The sound design of most Bell Shakespeare productions is wonderful and the percussiveness of this one is kind of perfect. The setting of the schoolroom limits the props mostly to rulers, pencils, books and shelves which they use to remarkable effect.
Credit also to the cast; parts of this play are difficult to do well, I think, and they were a pleasure to watch.
What I love about Bell Shakespeare, even on their off-years, is that they bring so much innovation and so much passion to each staging. On their best years I walk out feeling like I’ve been given a gift.