Saturday, October 8, 2016

Henry Five written by James Scott and William Shakespeare

Henry Five written by James Scott and William Shakespeare.  Honest Puck Theatre Company at CADA Theatre, 1/9 Lithgow St, Fyshwick, October 7-16, 2016.

Directed by James Scott; Sound and Lighting by James Scott; Original Music by Annie Liana Scott.

Cast: Brendan Kelly (Peter Figg/Westmoreland/Bedford); James Scott (Nick Topp/Henry); Katherine Berry (Hermione/Katherine/Exeter); Annie Liana Scott (Paris/Montjoy/Alice); Scott Bowcher (Tom/The Dauphin/Archbishop)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 7

A bit of a theatrical oddity, this Henry Five is essentially a demonstration of the theatre training courses offered by CADA – Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art – which is a privately owned registered VET (Vocational Education and Training) organisation.  James Scott and his wife Elizabeth Avery Scott saw a gap in Canberra between the Drama courses offered in the secondary school and university programs, and after some years’ operation currently employ some 18 theatre, film and TV professionals as teachers of 600 students, 65 of whom are enrolled in accredited programs and the rest in classes for children and young people or adults' leisure programs.

Honest Puck Theatre Company puts graduated or near-graduation students on show as they seek to move on into professional employment following their training covering subjects such as Vocal Arts, Into the Space, Actor-to-Actor, Character from Text, On Screen, On Stage, The Audition: Keys to Success and The Actor: Then and Now, which make up the course 10197 National Certificate IV in Acting for Stage and Screen. 

Or they may have taken Cert IV in Musical Theatre, or a Diploma of Musical Theatre, or an Advanced Diploma of Performance as Brendan Kelly, Scott Bowcher and Katherine Berry have done.

So Henry Five has been put together by Head of Studies James Scott around a story of Figg and Topp’s attempt to succeed in a local Shakespeare Festival, presenting Henry V, after their previous disastrous attempt at Coriolanus five years ago.  Topp prefers to drink himself into oblivion than face up to Figg’s insistence they carry on with no money, sets or props; Paris is from Berlin and doesn’t speak the French needed for Henry V despite Figg’s assumption from her name that she would; Hermione has arrived under orders from a magistrate to redeem herself from a life of petty crime; while Tom is suspiciously from a rival theatre group, where in fact he has become disaffected and is now committed to Figg.

Scott’s writing is cleverly done, highly reminiscent of the ‘rude mechanicals’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Figg’s role as a sort-of Peter Quince and Topp nodding towards Bottom the Weaver.  Despite the present day setting, lines subtly remind us of Shakespeare’s stress patterns, rhymes and famous phrases.  I imagine the often quite ludicrous Figg and Topp scenes might have happened in preparations for the summer Thredbo Ski Resort Shakespeare Festival which I remember reviewing some years ago.  Here, of course, Scott has provided his cast with the opportunity to play something like those English village television comedies like the Vicar of Dibley.

But then the severe trimming and reworking of Henry V for five actors is well done.  Scott as Topp takes the lead in playing Henry, and provides a model for his less experienced colleagues in his careful strong characterisation of this king with a genuine conscience, yet in a position where it is essential, because he is king, that he must win the day.  In some 50 minutes, we get the essence of Shakespeare’s artistry and social philosophy, through very effective sound effects, use of ‘presentational style’ in speeches directly to the audience, and particularly in the relationship set up between Henry and the French spokesman Montjoy, played with precise characterisation by Annie Liana Scott.

It turns out that Annie, as Princess Katherine’s maid, speaks French rather well, and Katherine Berry is highly adaptable in swapping from the raffish petty thief Hermione, through her roles as a soldier in battle, to a quite delightful scene as the Princess trying to learn to speak English.  It may be Shakespeare rather than James Scott who made it difficult to seriously accept Henry’s demand for marriage to Katherine as essential to the French submission to England while he also claims he loves her, and she is supposed to return his affection.

Of the men, I thought Brendan Kelly needed more variety of tone as Figg, while he handled the Shakespeare roles well; but in some contrast, I thought Scott Bowcher played the modern character Tom nicely, but his clarity of diction and phrasing needed improving for the Shakespeare.

So, though I wouldn’t see this production as entirely up to the full professional standard that I’ve seen recently in Sydney (see my reviews this year on this blog), it is entertaining and has elements of an effective presentation of Shakespeare which makes it very worthwhile for young people to see especially if they are seeking to understand what they would need to learn to do as prospective theatre students.

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