William Shakespeare is one of the most famous icons of our country, and rightly so. Yet for one reason or another, he has also come to be resented by some. Long tedious essays of days gone by may be to blame, or perhaps experiences of reading plays not dissimilar to learning a foreign language. Therefore you may perhaps have been sceptical of a performance of “The Famous Victories of Henry V” in Keele advertised as being perfect for anybody aged eight and upwards.
A Shakespeare production done properly, for some, is a true joy to behold, and who better to perform it than the Royal Shakespeare Company itself, on Saturday 27th of June, the RSC came to Keele University to perform “The Famous Victories of Henry V”. This was a compilation of the highlights from three of Shakespeare’s plays: Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V. The play charts the adventures of the young prince Hal and his growth from a rebellious robber to the noble King of England.
In the Keele Chapel I was indeed surprised by the sheer number of young children present there. Yet from the outset it became apparent that they truly did belong there: the actors/actresses were all terribly friendly and sat down and spoke to many families at the start, including myself. I was able to get a conversation with the Henry V (Martin Bassindale) himself. Throughout the play, the children (and indeed some adults) helped with the props, actions and singing. At one point we all played an embattled army of archers; it was all great fun, and ensured that everybody was involved in the action!
The play was very funny indeed, this was down to both Shakespeare’s writing and the actors’ superb performances. Sir John Falstaff, a rather useless, fat, half-drunk old knight, was played splendidly by Simon Yadoo and was simply hilarious. It may not say a lot for my maturity, but he was in fact my favourite character in the play. One of the other great parts was a large battle played out amongst Henry and his enemy Hotspur (played by Evelyn Miller): the choreography, music and sound effects were great, and it was quite a spectacle, despite there being only a small handful of actors present. The music and costumes throughout I Iiked, feeling they only added to the great atmosphere.
The play was very fast-moving without a boring moment, and everybody seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, down to the smallest child. So, Shakespeare may be for everybody after all. But give it a go and decide for yourself!
At the very end, I was very lucky to speak to one of the actors, named Nicholas Gerard-Martin, who gave some interesting insights into life as an actor. He explained how his technique to not being nervous was to simply accept it “nerves are entirely natural, and are a good thing. A mixture of fright and excitement, nerves can enhance a performance if channelled and controlled”. Also, when acting, he said how it is important that “one focusses not only on oneself, but on the other actors” and it is equally important to listen and be aware of them”. Hence, he believes that the best actors are those who are not narcissistic (it is about the character, not them). This may not only be true, but it also makes them far more pleasant people to be around, and Nick was really lovely. And what’s more, he took nearly the same A-levels as myself! Who knows? Perhaps, in years to come you shall be looking at “Hamlet, performed by David Conlon”.
Be that as it may, Nick and the rest of the cast did a truly splendid perfect job with the play, and I enjoyed it immensely. The acting really was faultless in my eyes. It has certainly made me appreciate Shakespeare much more, without a doubt.
By David Conlon.
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