Tag Archives: Matthew Parker

Henry V

★★★★

The Maltings Open Air Festival

Henry V

Henry V

The Maltings Open Air Festival

Reviewed – 15th August 2020

★★★★

 

“the cast are masterful at multi-roling and eking out the comic potential”

 

Lockdown appears to be easing in many walks of life, but it is unfortunate that the theatre world, in particular, is still struggling to get back on its feet. The government announcement allowing indoor events is very welcome although there is still a fair bit of ground to cover. In the meantime, open-air theatre is stealing the spotlight, and a very fine example of this is the Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival, set in the unique Roman Theatre of Verulamium just on the edge of St Albans. As part of the festival, Shakespeare’s “Henry V” is running in rep throughout August.

Whilst our theatres are nursing their wounds from the battle against the pandemic, outdoor theatre has another foe, too, in the English weather; and “Henry V” opened just as the heavens did. But mercifully the downpours showed some restraint for the crucial ninety minutes and rain didn’t stop play: the show must go on, and the true spirit of the cast thrives, matching the trumpet calls that herald Shakespeare’s historical text.

“Henry V” is an ambitious play. It is difficult to represent the great battles of Harfleur and, more importantly, of Agincourt. It relies heavily on the collective imagination of the audience, and here it is aided too by the individual imagination of director, Matthew Parker. Embracing the current restrictions, Parker presents the play as a rehearsal for a school production. The teachers and students have gathered together in the summer holidays to rework their production of “Henry V” that was presumably curtailed earlier in the school year. They have to alter the staging to make it socially distant and safe. Costumes can only be touched by the actor wearing them and no-one can share a prop – each cast member assigned different coloured tape to enforce this. The action is interrupted whenever actors get too close to each other. It is a clever way if incorporating the regulations into the performance itself.

The cast brilliantly capture the atmosphere of the classroom in recess where familiarity and authority have license to flirt with one another. The flipside, however, is that one is drawn to these characters more than to the Shakespearian characters they are portraying, and Shakespeare’s text plays second fiddle. The complexities of the subject, and the contrasting views on patriotism and warfare, do get swept aside by the occasional over-projection and caricature. Nevertheless, the cast are masterful at multi-roling and eking out the comic potential. Felipe Pacheco and James Keningale stand out, playing seven or so characters between them; and Rachel Fenwick shines as the French King’s daughter, Katherine, especially during the iconic scene in which she attempts to improve her English.

But all in all, it is an ensemble piece that is refreshingly pacey and fizzes with energy. The electricity that seems to crackle form the stage is not just the early signs of the impending thunderstorm. The setting is stunning: an excavated Roman amphitheatre that is nearly two thousand years old. For over a millennia it was buried, but it lives to see the light of day. A fitting backdrop for one of the first productions to emerge since lockdown. The spirit of theatre cannot be dampened – by an invisible enemy nor by the English weather, and this feisty production of Henry V is testament to that spirit.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Laura Harling

 


Henry V

The Maltings Open Air Festival until 31st August

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Musik | ★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | February 2020
Nearly Human | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Tell It Slant | ★★★ | Hope Theatre | February 2020
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | February 2020
Closed Lands | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester | ★★★★★ | Cadogan Hall | March 2020
The Kite Runner | ★★★★ | Richmond Theatre | March 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2020
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
The Understudy | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent interviews and reviews

 

The House of Yes

★★★★

Hope Theatre

The House of Yes

The House of Yes

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 10th October 2019

★★★★

 

“You’re guaranteed to feel sickened and hysterically entertained at the same time.”

 

Director Mathew Parker clearly has a penchant for tales that are dark and disturbing. Having had previous success with other Hope Theatre in-house productions, Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, The Lesson and Lovesong of The Electric Bear, they all have a similar theme of sinister unsettlement to them. Parker undisputedly has a knack for the genre of black comedy/thriller and brings his expertise to this latest show. The House of Yes is deliciously uncomfortable yet devilishly funny. A rare outing of Wendy Macleod’s under-the-radar 90’s hit play and film, this is a thrilling revival, losing none of its shock value or humour.

It’s Thanksgiving in Washington D.C. A hurricane is sweeping through the capital, but it’s not just the weather that’s blowing up a storm. The Pascal family, of upper-class, WASP-ish pedigree, who live in a time warp since the Kennedy assassination, are feverishly awaiting the arrival of the prodigal son, Marty (Fergus Leathem). None is as excited for his return as his unstable twin sister Jackie-O (Colette Eaton). However the presence of Marty’s fiancee, Lesly (Kaya Bucholc), there to meet the family, comes as somewhat of a surprise. The obsessive Jackie is not best pleased, younger brother Anthony (Bart Lambert) is infatuated, and Mother Pascal (Gill King) is judging from the shadows as she watches on. In a series of twisted events and manipulations, the night soon becomes a Thanksgiving no one will forget.

The cast, on a whole, do a marvellous job at giving heightened performances that never fall into being camp and melodramatic, which could so easily occur with Macleod’s writing. Eaton as Jackie-O teases you with her fragility, never knowing when she might do something drastic, whilst Lambert’s oddball physicality and leering looks as Anthony are decidedly creepy and comical all-in-one.

The studio space is decked out by designer Rachael Ryan with gold drapes, and gilded frames, to give a nod to the cavernous, elaborate home of the Pascals, yet uses the intimate environment of the theatre, full of shadowy little corners, to heighten the gothic, haunted house aesthetic.

With an Absurdist veneer and Noël Coward-like sensibility, The House of Yes gives an unconventional take on theatrical commonalities, creating its own Frankenstein mish-mash of genres. The subtext hints to deeper messages on the themes of family politics, and the American class system, but never lets this interfere with the stylised exterior. Instead it is just tantalisingly bubbling under the surface. Regardless of being nearly 30 years old, this play still feels rather daring, even if not so relevant to today. You’re guaranteed to feel sickened and hysterically entertained at the same time.

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by lhphotoshots

 


The House of Yes

Hope Theatre until 26th October

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Ruffian On The Stair | ★★★★ | January 2019
Getting Over Everest | ★★★ | April 2019
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Uncle Vanya | ★★★★ | April 2019
True Colours | ★★★★ | May 2019
Cuttings | ★★★½ | June 2019
The Censor | ★★ | June 2019
River In The Sky | ★★★ | August 2019
Call Me Fury | ★★★ | September 2019
It’s A Playception | ★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews