Once More Unto the Breach

Still in full Shakespeare mode after joining in the weekend’s events at Stratford on Avon commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death, I went to watch a brilliant version of Henry V last night.  This was performed by a young theatre group called Anticdispositions

England’s idealistic army marches to war, certain of a swift and glorious victory. France proudly rallies to defend her borders from invasion. But as nations clash, it is the common soldiers who pay the ultimate price in the bloody mud of the battlefield.

Marking both the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the ongoing centenary of the First World War, Antic Disposition’s critically acclaimed production of Henry V returns for a season of special performances in nine stunning locations around the country.

We are still marking the First World War in Europe and this production managed to weave the horrors of that battle and the momentous events of the Battle of Agincourt together seamlessly.  It was very powerful and moving.  I honestly don’t know how they managed to pull it off with so few actors and in such a small space, but they excelled themselves.

The cast and dialogue was a mixture of French and English which was unusual but very effective.  The audience had to concentrate but the acting and pace was so good that no-one seemed to breathe or move for the whole performance.  The rendition of the famous battle speech was breathtaking.  You can watch and listen to a famous film clip of Henry’s great battle speech here :

The setting for the performance helped too.  It was performed in the Quire of the magnificent Gloucester Cathedral.  The audience was seated in the choir stalls, which were not very comfortable and it was as cold as only a vast and empty cathedral can be.  But the backdrop of the huge stained glass East Window was enough to take my mind off the discomfort.  One of the clergy who attended reminded us that the Cathedral had been in existence for almost 300 years before the Henry V came to the throne.  It was founded in 1022 as a Benedictine Abbey dedicated to St Peter.  The Abbey was dissolved in 1540 by Henry V111 and became Gloucester Cathedral the following year.  She also reminded us that the East Window had actually been in place for over 60 years before the Battle of Agincourt occurred in 1415.  A sobering thought.

By the end of the play I was again in awe of Shakespeare’s genius and overwhelmed by the architecture and history around me.  I was moved and saddened by the futility and almost inevitability of war, and the horrors it inflicts on ordinary people. I was reminded of what a difference great leadership can make to any undertaking, and uplifted by the admirable courage shown by ordinary people in desperate situations.

At Agincourt Henry V had around 6,000 English and Welshmen of whom over 5,000 were archers. They were sick with dysentery, soaked, muddy and exhausted from marching in torrential rain.  The French meanwhile vastly outnumbered them with at least 30,000, many of whom were knights and princes.  They were fresh, rested and well fed.  It is unimaginable odds.  Yet by the evening on that St Crispin’s Day, the small English army were victorious and had entered legend.

You can click to read a good article in The Telegraph newspaper about the Battle of Agincourt and why we should remember it.

We weren’t allowed to take photos during the performance so I have copied the publicity photos from the AnticDispositions website.  Hope this is ok!

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