If there is one thing you have to know about Henry the Fifth it is that many versions have been told, and that you should give this Unicorn Theatre production some artistic licence because… well… we’re told that by the Narrator (Abdul Salis) within the first minute. And while it has been told in a very different way, it is probably one of the best versions I have seen, or to quote the young boy that shouted it out during the show, the “sickest” (in good way of course) version.
Taking inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry V, this show follows the young King Henry as he tries to lift England out of poverty by claiming France as his own, something that the books of old claim is rightfully his. But when he reaches France, it isn’t as easy as he hoped.
From the opening scenes you know that this is going to be a different kind of play when Henry (Shane Zaza) looks across to France and it is represented as a massive sand pit, with Katherine (Hannah Boyde) building the city around her. We get these kinds of representation throughout, one of the main quirky replacements being King Henry’s army as balloons.
But just because this production relies on imagination and comedic timing does not mean that the issues raised are any less effective. The slaying of the army balloons is still painful. But even watching the show and not being the target audience, it is still as chilling as it would be watching the scene if it was in Henry V. The scenes have extra care taken over them and are wonderfully acted.
This four-strong cast prove that great acting succeeds over lavish sets any day, and within the first minute they have you captivated with their comedic timing. Salis’s Narrator brings a great twist to the usual narrator-led plays, and the breaking of the fourth wall adds perfectly to the story. Zaza’s wonderfully immature Henry has one-liners that will make you chuckle throughout. Rhys Rusbatch, who takes the role of Distant Cousin Nigel, plays the great pantomime-style villain without making it painfully cheesy. But my pick of the show would have to be Hannah Boyde as Katherine, the kick-ass female character who you find yourself rooting for through out the show.
It is really impossible to pick out a favourite part, otherwise I would be here all day. With Ignance Cornellissen’s script, Ellen McDougall’s great direction, and the work of the cast, crew and venue, Henry The Fifth is a magical theatre experience and fun for all the family.
Henry The Fifth is playing at Unicorn Theatre until 16 November 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Unicorn Theatre website.