Lazarus Theatre Company is known for its striking visuals and imaginative interpretations of classical texts. Seeing one of its shows, you know you are in for a rich visual experience – a strong, ensemble-based company that strives to reimagine texts that can feel hard to relate to today. Its all-female Henry V at the Union Theatre is missing some of the usual magic though, with its heavily cut text that makes it difficult for someone not familiar with the play to truly understand what is going on.

Henry V has just assumed the throne and wants to declare war on France. But the road to war requires support from the English noblemen and clergy, and it is evident that France won’t give in to the English easily. Having never read Henry V myself, Lazarus’s production presents an atmosphere of war and the world within the play, but the story itself can be hard to follow. It is difficult to distinguish between characters at times, and as the French have almost been cut out entirely, we are missing the other side of the argument – what drives the narrative and the problem of Henry’s quest.

The world of the play is beautifully designed as always and Stuart Glover’s intriguing lighting design is enchanting. The sparse set and Brechtian use of actors in space throughout is a niche Lazarus is famous for, and their wonderful ensemble work always shines a new light on the play: in this case the English and their relationships, and the troubles of being a king and a human, all with women in the male roles. With their navy boiler suits we get a sense of practical women who get on with it. Their strong masculinity is what makes the casting work in a male-dominated play, though female characters and the energy between the two genders would have been intriguing with an all-female cast. Colette O’Rourke’s Henry has great strength and intensity despite her frail appearance, and her stripped back performance is captivating – her subtle prayer of “once more unto the breach, dear friends” is an interesting choice when compared to the usual masculine belt-out. There are other moments of captivating performances throughout, although the ensemble as a whole loses the meat of the text a bit. This is a shame as the energy between the women is exciting, and the concept of this production is very intelligent and inspiring.

Director Ricky Dukes’s work with Lazarus has always excited me, and though the work with the actors and the meatiness of the text could have been stronger, Henry V is visually intriguing and – as an atmospheric experience of the troubles of war – it has the potential to evoke an interesting view on an otherwise testosterone-fuelled play.

Henry V is playing at the Union Theatre until 18 July. For tickets and more information, see the Union Theatre website. Photo by Lazarus Theatre Company.