Review: Henry V by SUSU Theatre Group ★★★★☆

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From the 19th to 22nd of February, the Student’s Union Theatre Group are performing their interpretation of the classic Shakespearean play Henry V, the fourth play in the historical tetralogy. Following the story of King Henry V, once a wild and unruly Prince who associated with lowlifes and criminals, we see him grow from an unsure, young man into a great and powerful leader as English troops are led into battle with the French. Transporting the original plot and Shakespearean language into the 21st century, the Theatre Group have modernised the play and cleverly adapted the setting and context. Notably, referring to King Henry as ‘Harry’ is a clever link between the historic figure of Henry V and the modern day Prince Harry, as though the Prince Harry that a modern day audience can relate to has been forced to take the throne.

Director Joe Hart has described the play as ‘by far the biggest show Theatre Group has done all year’ and it is hard to disagree with such a flawless performance by the cast. Minimal, if any, mistakes or hesitations were made as all cast members seemed to thoroughly know their lines, cues and actions. Even the lines in French seemed faultless. Chris Barlow depicts a powerful King particularly in his inspirational, moving speeches to his soldiers that the real King Henry V was known for, and thus played his role well. He brought the personality of the 15th century king to the present day. Another particularly impressive cast member was Kae Ohene-Yeboah who played the entrusted military leader and messenger the Duke of Exeter, while Joel Jackson, acting the part of the Chorus, tied together the play very well with a natural and light-hearted performance at the beginning of each Act that also included some interaction with the audience, making the show more captivating.

The setting and props used were especially effective. The weaponry used, as usefully explained in the programme, is real and provided by the University Airsoft Society and private collectors. This allows for a much more convincing performance as well as emphasising the contrast between the classic play and the modernised adaptions and personal touches put in by the Theatre Group. Also an effective and authentic addition to the performance is having the soldiers force the audience to move to another room where another set based in France is waiting; the audience is thrown into the action of the battle and this involvement makes for a more interesting show.

However, something that could have been improved was the presentation of the fight scenes. Not entirely convincing and at times almost slapstick, the portrayal of the battle between the English and French is not the strongest point of the performance. Similarly, when Henry and the French King’s daughter Katharine are brought together towards the end of the play, their interaction comes across as somewhat immature and not as serious as may be required in this part where Henry proposes love and marriage. Some would enjoy the comic element introduced to this section of the play, while others may find it childish and insincere and think it should be more genuine.

All in all, Southampton University’s Student Union’s Theatre Group is offering a fresh and entertaining interpretation to the classic play; it is definitely worth seeing and is an impressive performance, especially for a group of university students who have taken part alongside their studies.

Tickets are still available from the Box Office and are £6 for students, £9 for adults and £5 for Performing Arts members. The show runs until Saturday 22nd February in The Annex Theatre.

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