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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

The Blitzing of Henry V

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One-time Byron High School student Gabriel Fancourt returns to the region as part of the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry V.

Gabriel is a NIDA graduate and this is his first production for the highly esteemed Bell Shakespeare.

While a first for Fancourt, this is also a first for director Damien Ryan, making his debut on the main stage. Prior to this Ryan’s productions have been outdoor Shakespearean productions.

Ryan’s contemporary take on this classic tale of a king who unites a kingdom with his eloquent words is inspired by a true story.

According to Gabriel: ‘During the London Blitz a group of school children were under the ground – it was a Boys’ Brigade that got stuck for 57 days – and to amuse each other they put on plays and started a boys’ club.

This creates a unique challenge for actors who must play characters playing characters!

‘Everyone except for the guy playing Henry changes characters. Someone will read out what scene, and then they’ll grab whatever they need; the show has that thrown-together feel.’

The base characters underpin the spontaneity and the excitement of the production.

2014HenryV_BellShakespeare_PhotobyMicheleMossop_0193‘Before we staged the play we discussed the themes – we had long conversations about our base characters. My character is a young kid; another is a bully, another a sports guy; and then as you watch the scene unfold you get a sense of who they are in the play without their actually giving that much away about themselves verbally. The script we use is Henry V.

Fancourt believes that the play maintains its contemporary relevance because of a modern insight about the futility of war.

‘I think the great strength of this production is that people in hard times find inspiration in telling stories about heroes.

‘This is a production about fear, camaraderie. Ultimately what the play is talking about is the futility of war. It’s really the young people and the people at home who pay the great cost. Henry V becomes the king of France but then dies, and they lose France, and so in the end it’s all for nothing. Even winning means nothing.

‘We are a society that is so tired of war. In the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V there were five or six other versions of the story told by other playwrights. This is the only play that has survived.

Shakespeare had that ability to tell stories and communicate the heart of what was going on in an immediate manner. Henry was regarded as a hero king but Shakespeare also allows us to criticise. I think the reason this play lasted was because he didn’t give us something pro- or anti-war, this play is like a conversation about war.’

This has been a dynamic and exciting first production for Fancourt.

‘It was a unique way to work because the concept relies heavily on what the kids had in the room. From day one we had piles of books and cricket bats and chairs and papers and we’d chat about it and then we’d go, ‘this is a siege scene that needs a castle… how do we make a castle with what we have here?’ Then we’d put the chairs on top of the bookcase and we had a castle. We use our staging as improvisational staging for Henry V.

Proving to be a hit with school groups, this energetic and boundless performance of a band of brothers presenting Henry V is a fresh, new interpretation of the classic you shouldn’t miss.’

Norpa presents the Bell Shakespeare Company’s Henry V at Lismore City Hall on Friday at 11am and 7.30pm and Saturday at 7.30pm.

Bookings at 1300 066 772 or go to norpa.org.au.

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