Monday, July 27, 2015


Passion in Practice at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

We have little idea of what Shakespeare looked like – visually, his portrait and his plays remain a matter for conjecture. But what of the sound of the man and his words ?
Work on Original Pronunciation, much of it centred on Shakespeare's Globe and its Education arm, has been going on for some years, with the creative approach of David and Ben Crystal, father and son, philologist and actor, at the heart of it.
This wonderful pocket-sized Henry V – “a little room confining mighty men” - is their latest exploration. It begins with a nervous Prologue from Sean Garratt's Boy: actually the epilogue from Henry IV part 2, leading seamlessly into the new play. A simple staging, with silken hangings and subtle shadows, no costumes. Judiciously cut, but still almost two hours and a half, without interval, which is a bit of a trial in this venue. The intimacy of the action is stunning – almost like a film version, where the king's thoughts are shared like secrets with the audience, and even the denunciation of the traitors is powerfully low-key. The “band of brothers” speech is superbly delivered by Ben Crystal's intense King.
There's music, and much humour too, Adam Webb's Mackmorrice down in the mines, Crystal senior's Fluellen, Will Sutton's Bardolph. Much simple fun at the expense of the French, with their silly Allo Allo accents.
And the sound of the words is key to the experiment, after all. The Crystals work hard to recreate the sounds of Shakespeare's men - “our” “oar” and “o'er” are all the same, “charge” rhymes, of course, with “George”, in the mouths of the French, “horse” is indistinguishable from “arse”. It seems to me that if vowels are going to shift, then they all should, and some actors were more adept than others at leaving RP behind.
The actors read their words – Bardolph from a neat little scroll, the Boy from a notebook, but mostly from dog-eared scripts with highlighter markings.

But even without the attraction of the authentic voice of the Tudor playhouse, this would be a pleasingly compelling production, shedding new [candle-] light on a familiar text. Following this sell-out première, the show moves down the Thames to Tanner Street for more performances on August 3, 4 and 5.

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