9 February 2024

Lakespeare packs down for a season of Henry V like you've never seen before

| Ian Bushnell

No quarter: National pride and a lot more is on the line in Lakespeare’s production of Henry V being performed from 15-25 February across Canberra. Photos: Esh Photography.

Lakespeare, Canberra’s Shakespearian theatre company dedicated to bringing the Bard to the masses, returns this month with a novel production of Henry V staged as a rugby tour.

For stirring displays of on-field heroics and off-field national passions, rugby offers a perfect platform for one of Shakespeare’s most famous historical dramas, according to co-director Taimus Werner-Gibbons who has had the idea percolating away since 2001.

“This is the culmination of more than two decades of me thinking and wondering whether or not it was feasible and how are we going to do it and could we do it and God, I’d love to do it and wouldn’t it work really, really well?” he said.

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Mr Werner-Gibbons said Shakespeare himself provided the cue to use sport as a vehicle for the play, when he had the French Dauphin giving tennis balls to the English and telling them they’re not good enough, go and play with these.

“If you transpose that to say, you’re not very good at football or rugby, you’re not tough enough, it kicks off from there,” he said.

“What sport do you use where England can play France and there’s a bit of brutality?”

The signature rallying speeches of Henry also reminded him of what he heard in the huddle of football games.

All this time it had been matter of waiting for the right opportunity and cast to come along and this year the stars finally aligned.

This time it’s deadly serious. Jake Fryer-Hornsby faces off with Anneka van der Velde.

It’s Lakespeare’s first drama, after seasons of comedy, but fortunately the Bard always allows for a leavening of humour, and of course there will be a scrum.

But Mr Werner-Gibbons said the play asked some serious questions. How far do you go to compromise? How far do you go to protect or create a legacy? What risks will you take, who will you sacrifice?

“The character of Henry V is really interesting because it’s very hard to get a grip on,” he said. “Sometimes he’s a thug, sometimes he sounds quite fascist, sometimes he sounds like a really naive wannabe leader, other times he’s reaching for the stars with glorious words of heroic underdog victory.”

The audience is encouraged to barrack for either side and wear team colours – blue for France and white for England – and wave flags, provided on the day, along with footballs for the kids.

The cast will have names and numbers on their backs to make it easy for characters to be identified.

One of the shows is even at the Vikings ground in Wanniassa, with the club as sponsor providing free use of the facilities.

Mr Werner-Gibbons is directing with Sophia Carlton but, as you would expect, it’s a team effort.

“It’s my vision, but I’m trying to make it really collegiate and I think it’s succeeding,” he said. “Everyone is having ideas and working out different ways of playing things and challenging each other.”

Professional actor and graduate of the WA Academy of Performing Arts Jake Fryer-Hornsby is in the titular role, and is joined by Lakespeare veteran Anneka van der Velde, who has also just turned pro, and Marni Mount, who has just finished a Master of Theatre (Directing) with the Victorian College of the Arts.

Max Gambale, Annabelle Hansen, Jacob Church, Alexandra Pelvin, Tyler Berrigan, John Lombard, and Hannah Cordelia fill out the 10-person cast.

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There will be four free shows – at Tuggeranong Town Park on 23 February at 6:30 pm, two on the Patrick White Lawns in Parkes (24 February) at 4:30 pm and 8 pm, and one at Viking Park on 25 February at 6 pm.

As well there will be three ticketed performances – two Shakespeare Down the Pub shows at Verity Lane Market on 15 and 20 February at 6:30 pm, and at the ACT Hub at Causeway Hall, Kingston on 25 February at 1 pm.

The performance lasts two hours plus a 20 minute intermission. Food and drink will be available but picnics are welcome.

To learn more visit the Lakespeare website and Eventbrite.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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