Henry V (Man and Monarch)

Remixing Shakespeare isn't anything new, but few productions have done it so boldly as Parrabbola's one-man show of Henry V at Holden Street Theatres, performed by RADA graduate Brett Brown and directed by Bard veteran Philip Parr. The two alliterative thespians take an original approach to reinterpreting the classic tale of the English monarch's life and times – eschewing the common take of hauling it into modern times in favour of bravely reparsing Will's stanzas into something simultaneously fresh and familiar.

Taking lines from a broad selection of Shakespeare's tetralogy of the English Kings, Brown starts the play reading of his own character's demise in lines from Henry VI, much to his distress. The rendition then returns to more faithful territory, describing the battle of Agincourt and the famous, "Once more unto the breach" line. As one would expect from a RADA and Globe Theatre alumni, Brown's delivery is rousing and impassioned. His performance focuses heavily on what makes Shakespeare's account of the warring king so compelling: his uncertainty in his ability to bear the weight of both the crown and his ambitions.

The intentionally sparse set and costume serves to reinforce the impact of Shakespeare's hallowed lines, and by the time of the venerated "St. Crispin's Day Speech" (served here in the latter half of the recital), the audience is utterly compelled by Brown, who is literally daubed in 'French blood'. While the production isn't focused upon rendering Henry V relevant to modern issues, they are self-aware about the delicacy of reading out a list of vanquished French nobles in the wake of the Nice attacks, but are unapologetic in their dedication to the Bard's lines, and eventually plan to take the performance as-is to France - which may be a controversial decision, but I think to be justifiable.

Henry V (Man and Monarch) achieves what so, so many reproductions of Shakespeare's works dare not even attempt; restructuring his plays to provide a refreshing take on the combative monarch and his struggles, while still providing a cohesive and engaging performance. It is a testament to Brown and Parr's skills and intimacy with the Bard's works that this production works at all, and indeed works brilliantly.

★★★★