Our veteran arts correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, braved the slings and arrows of the Agincourt scenes and the hottest night of the year to witness the latest performance from Theatre Workship Coulsdon
Some might say that Henry V is a show for our time, a play that pits two mighty nations against one another, where a war of words among their leaders can cost the fortunes of millions. And like Brexit, the production of Henry V at Coulsdon Court has faced difficulties.
It is the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon’s annual jaunt into the open air, and in its first week – the run resumes for this week tomorrow evening – the cast and crew encountered possibly the hottest day ever in southern England, followed by thunderstorms and heavy rain.
Certainly, on the evening I attended, when I found myself among a disappointingly sparse audience, I had to use my lavender-infused kerchief more than once, as I nearly perspired.
I can only imagine what the performers must have been feeling like in their courtly medieval costumes. The breeze up on the Coulsdon Court golf course was good enough to cool us in the audience, at least.
If you are thinking of coming by public transport, forget it. It’s a bring-your-own-chair event. And bring some refreshments, too, as the interval refreshments were, shall we say, paltry. The 10-minute interval was not enough to repair to the club house bar.
On the warm evening that I attended, the breeze itself became a problem, as it has been in previous years here, beneath the copse by the 10th fairway.
Even for a company of actors that matches any regional professional rep, the sound of the rustling leaves in the first half were amplified by the sound system, meaning that some parts are lost, especially with clear-dictioned Anya Destiney, cast gender-blind as Henry, occasionally drifting off sound-wise in that first part.
The trees, too, are an encumbrance if you are at the back of the canopied auditorium, as you’ll need to move around to see the action on the wide stage. At the back, you’ll also get to see the well-judged use of the wide spaces of the site for battle and other action by the performers.
Bruce Montgomery was again an anchor of a Theatre Workshop Croydon performance as the Chorus. Joe Wilson as John, Duke of Burgundy, and Fluellen, with the leek, was commanding at yet another performance. It was these two who have been stand out players in previous productions.
That it was in the character pieces that the company excelled does ask questions as to whether Shakespeare history plays fit the company’s greatest strengths or, indeed, the local demand for a summer’s evening. After all, the schools are off for the summer now, so there’s little chance that GCSE and A-Level Shakespeare curriculum demands will pull in the pupils and their parents.
Shakespeare uses contrasting sub-plots liberally. Paul Ford as Pistol, Chris Argles as Bardolph and Lisa Llloyd as Mistress Quickley were outstandingly entertaining. Ford, in particular, dominated in what is quite a difficult open setting in which to perform.
Fran Auletta and Lisa Lloyd were suitably spot-on comic as Katherine and her lady-in-waiting Alice – much borrowed from 1944 and Renee Asherson and “dee nai-ales“.
In the best-remembered film versions, much effort was given to the scores, by William Walton and Patrick Doyle, and this performance is no different, with its own, excellent original music.
The main plot, however, was solid and reliable. The tennis balls scene seemed skated over with unusual speed and understated timing. The French court’s demeanour seemed extraordinarily modestly English. It did not provide evidence of the self-perceived superiority of the French that is in Shakespeare’s script.
At least the darting and very courteous golf cart transport to the site from the hotel remains the same.
As the evening came to an end, I was offered a ride back to the car park. Perhaps I am beginning to look a bit older.
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