Henry V - The Lion of England
Henry V- The Lion of England
Written by Nick Hennegan
Performed by Elle Dillon-Reams
The Wheatsheaf (London)
Until Sunday 14th June
I love London's hidden fringe venues, this was my first visit to the Wheatsheaf, near Tottenham Court Road. Their theatre - an upstairs room with antiquated paintings adorning the walls and black fabric taped to the windows in a bid to keep out the warm June sun - played host to Maverick Theatre's 'Henry V - The Lion of England', and it is without a doubt a fitting space for this show - it's a small show, with an absolutely massive heart, and the intimacy of the space at the Wheatsheaf adds all the more to the experience. It is Shakespeare as I have never seen it before.
With 84% of Shakespeare's characters being male, casting a woman (Elle Dillon-Reams) to play all of the parts in this scintillating and fervent retelling, is certainly one way of tackling gender disparity in theatre. Maverick Theatre were originally looking for a male OR a female to play the role - either would have worked - but it was new and mightily refreshing to see a woman on stage delivering the Henry war speeches, with just as much gusto and passion as I've ever seen any male perform them. Also, it kind of didn't make much of a difference, the story is the story, all the same.
Dillon-Reams is an incredibly versatile actress, with an almighty presence. Her energy is colossal, she had us hooked from the off, and even more so once she explained that she was about to pretend to be the Archbishop of Canterbury (using a robe to signify this). Much of the joy in this production is in the pretending. Sections of the original script are housed within a modern day script written by Nick Hennegan. He explains our need to employ our imaginations, and that we may need to concentrate, for Shakespeare is very wordy, a rumble of laughter came from the audience at this point - whether you've been made to study Shakespeare at school, or grace the RSC on a regular basis, I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that need to employ all of your concentration. However, for this show, you really don't - it tears through the story at breakneck speed (a joyful 1h20) Dillon-Reams skilfully jumps from character to character with clarity and skill, it's funny, it's powerful - the battle of Agincourt is written and performed in such a way it becomes vivid in your mind's eye, and is reminiscent of so many other battles in history, and not dissimilar to so many being fought today, as we are gently reminded in the epilogue.
It's a really great show for a summer's afternoon or evening, but you only have today (mat, eve) and tomorrow (mat, eve) to catch it. Great venue (though warm in the summer - take a bottle of water in), a space well suited to this powerful show - it's a new kind of Shakespeare, which breaks all the rules, I'm glad to have discovered it.
(C) Amie Taylor 2015
Eleanor Dillon-Reams leading London hit show Henry V
Eleanor Dillon-Reams is Queen of Shakespeare’s Kings – Henry V – in the hit show, Henry V – Lion of England, in London for the first time to commemorate the 600th anniversary of The Battle of Agincourt.
The role has been made famous in the past by Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh, but now Eleanor Dillon-Reams plays Henry V – and twelve other characters! Henry V – Lion of England was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival and has toured the UK, Ireland and the USA, but it comes to London for the first time – to a pub!
Writer and Maverick’s Artistic Director, Nick Hennegan said, “To celebrate 21 years of the Maverick Theatre Company we thought we’d bring back the show that started it all to commemorate the Battle of Agincourt. On tour it’s been a big production, with lighting, music and special effects, but we first did it in a pub back in 1992 and we wanted to get back to that. We’ve also had four previous actors playing Henry V – all men. And our SM is female too. So it’s great that we’re now an all-woman show – apart from me, of course!”
Director Katie Merritt said, “Eleanor was just the best talent for the show. I’ve always believed in gender-blind casting and although it creates extra elements for direction, we’ve been able to add a new scene with one of the female characters and it gives an extra dimension to the piece I think.”
Eleanor Dillon-Reams said, “I’ve been very aware from day one that I’d be not only taking on a huge lead role but one that is famous for being played by many of the great MALE actors. Being a 20 something woman means I’m not necessarily as strong or physically big as any of the previous Henrys’ that have taken on this solo version of Henry V. It’s been a real exploration, but ultimately, the piece will inevitably be different because you have a woman playing the role and that’s not a hindrance, it’s really bloody exciting!”
‘Henry V – Lion of England’ by Nick Hennegan. Upstairs at The Wheatsheaf Pub, 25 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 1JB. Weekends till 20th June, 2015. Tickets £6-£24, but use the limited time special offer code when booking – HENRY01 and get HALF PRICE TICKETS!
The Wheatsheaf, London W1. May/June 2015.
UK Theatre Web Site
In Little Rooms confining mighty men. And mighty women...
This play started life in a pub with a ghetto blaster and 21 years later after a world tour it's back in the pub with a ghetto blaster. And with only one performer. But what a performer and what a performance! Eleanor Dillon-Reams crushes it. Her cockney, curtseying, charming Chorus is the storyteller who holds it all together, but as the story unfurls her poise is shaken and her terror feels real. She becomes a scheming Archbishop, a treacherous Lord, a vainglorious Dauphin, a doddering King, a sobbing Fluellen and of course King Henry V himself. Here she conveys poise and command but manages to hint at his wild younger days. Director Katie Merrit has Dillion-Reams using every inch of the tiny room. And the writing too performs something of a minor miracle. Nick Hennegan gently submerges us into the "dark, dangerous days of 1415" and Shakespeare's original story becomes crystal clear. Soon Shakespeare and Hennegan are perfectly intwined, with the latter's clever use of rhyming couplets and subtle use of alliteration. The most remarkable thing about this show though, is its sheer theatricality, given there is nothing to it. The set is a hefty wooden chair. There are few props. What we have is one talented actor, a talented director and two talented writers. There is far more imagined blood, tension and political intrigue in this production than I have seen in a Henry V for many years - including Michael G's offering with Jude. And the icing on the theatrical cake comes at the end, when Chorus turns the tables on the whole story. Go see.
What's On Stage.
The Fitzrovia News