As they celebrate their 15th birthday, Guildford Shakespeare Company are preparing to bring She Stoops To Conquer to life in the gardens of Guildford Castle. Rick Murphy & Lisa Dvorjetz review their recent live-streamed performance of Henry V…
Live theatre is one of the countless scarcities of the Covid-19 era, and during an exhausting lockdown, as the nation craves a return to art and culture, the Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) staged a virtual production of Henry V. Maybe the play’s timely theme, which reveres British power over Europe, reminds us that, for the last 800 years, history has been set to repeat. In a mere 75 minutes, the cast and crew transported us from the alehouses of England to the battlefields of France. But, can our modern video technology really compete with the grandeur of a theatre performance?
Watching Henry V on a tablet felt like receiving a Zoom call from the 1300s. The fifth wall was creatively protected by a five-actor cast who meticulously changed clothes, props, scenes, accents, stage positions, from the comfort of their own homes, while presumably entertaining hordes of neighbours too. This was a fascinating and novel experience because, as well as being transported into the homes of the actors, we were also “Zoomed” into the homes of other audience members. Performing a show online has the potential for losing a theatre ambiance; however, this production created a slight voyeuristic effect which allowed you to track viewers’ reactions and feel part of a shared experience.
Don’t worry, you could switch your camera off!
Historical plays are sombre, and they yearn for a strong fit between each element of the performance. Watching each actor on “speaker view” made the characters seem intimate and the drama immersive. In one night-time scene, Henry, played by Gavin Fowler, was considering his claim to the French crown. It was choreographed in such a way that the background images were dimmed, home lights were turned off, and phone torches were used to create a fluttering sense of firelight. Sitting inside a theatre means each poignant whisper must carry to those unfortunate souls in the back row, but in the ease of a virtual play one is invited into a dialogue with each character personally. This made for a stirring entry into their fictional world.
Gavin embodied the energy and focus that one could imagine the young Henry V to have possessed. Chris Porter, Emily Tucker, Paula James and Matt Pinches managed to transition between the diverse country folk and nobles by use of their colourful costumes and wide array of accents. Some moments were unintentionally slapstick, particularly where the storyline hurried along too quickly, where background images were cartoonishly bright, with one actor showing clear signs of dial-up internet; but experiencing the victory of the battlefield from the comfort of home, patriotically munching on popcorn from our own front row, made this modern-take on Henry V a welcome and entertaining experience.
Rick Murphy & Lisa Dvorjetz
To book your seats for the next outdoor highlights, She Stoops To Conquer & AS You Like It, visit guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk
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