Edinburgh Fringe 2014
A reworking of Henry V with a focus on the human side of the struggle for the crown. Two actors restage this epic to great effect. In a year that both commemorates the outbreak of World War One and decides what the future borders of the United Kingdom will be, this play looks back to earlier battles on the fields of France and examines the making of national legends.
Edinburgh is awash with alternative takes on Shakespeare – whether reworking the text as this play does or exploring the themes of the plays.
Mingled Yarn’s adaptation of Henry V stays with the original text (plus a little borrowed from Henry IV) and stages it with two young actors, both women, to tell the story. The result is an outstanding example of storytelling at its best.
The adaptation is by the director Rafaella Marcus with additional work and contributions from the cast as the play developed. They have created a straightforward clear arc through the story which is both subtle and surprising. The set is simple with items such as a tin chest used as a stage, storage, seating and an upturned bedframe holding other props and costume to draw on as needed. Music and sound provide a backdrop suggestive of the First World War rather than Agincourt but with simple unfussy costumes that are not period specific the overall feel is one of timelessness.
The story begins in a bedroom and transports us through battle and siege to the final victory at Agincourt and Henry’s marriage to Catherine.
Both actresses are exceptionally skilled in dealing with the complex language and are a delight to listen to. Lucy Fyffe plays Harry throughout with Sally O’Leary as Chorus and all others. Both have an extraordinary (and well matched) ability to deliver the complex language. Both have clear diction and achieve a conversational tone that suits the intimacy of both the setting and the space perfectly.
O’Leary makes the shifts between characters – as Chorus, the Dauphin, a messenger, nobles various, and finally the French princess Catherine with ease. She expresses each role through voice and physicality assisted by the simple addition of a coloured scarf. Red for England and blue for France – worn in different ways depending on who she is playing.
Fyffe also gives an excellent performance. She is a boyish Henry but one who is always clearly in charge. The effect of the some of the famous speeches set in an intimate almost domestic setting is to hear them in a completely new way. Suddenly we are listening to familiar words afresh and it is mesmerising.
One of the most striking moments was the simplicity with which they conveyed the battle of Agincourt but I am not going to spoil it by revealing any of the detail.
This is a must see production, one that shows vividly that Shakespeare doesn’t ever have to be hard work or dull; that it can be exciting, engaging and absorbing.