Shakespeare's tale of war spans the ages

PERFORMING Shakespeare doesn’t appear to be easy at the best of times, but it must be even harder when you’re playing five different roles in the one play.

Darcy Brown in one of the five roles he plays in the Bell Shakespeare Company’s updated version of Henry V.

Darcy Brown in one of the five roles he plays in the Bell Shakespeare Company’s updated version of Henry V.

For actor Darcy Brown and his Bell Shakespeare co-stars, that’s all part of the fun in their current production of the Bard’s Henry V, which comes to Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre tomorrow at 7.30pm.

“We’ve got a cast of 10 and Henry V ... has about 40 characters so there’s a fair bit of doubling and tripling up,” Brown said, adding that he plays five roles.

“It’s definitely something to get your mind around in rehearsal — initially I felt a bit like a deer in the headlights, that they put you in a costume and push you on stage.

“It’s a challenge but it’s an extraordinary learning process.”

Brown conceded that it took a few performances to feel comfortable with the production, but with about 50 shows under their belt, the cast was hitting its stride and seeing a strong response from the audience as a result.

While it’s a tale of an English king battling the French may not be quite as well known as Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet, Henry V has, like most Shakespearean plays, had a lasting impact, inspiring phrases such as “once more unto the breach” and “band of brothers”, as well as spawning notable film versions starring Laurence Olivier (in 1944) and Kenneth Branagh (in 1989).

Bell Shakespeare’s production add a framing device by setting it among a group of school kids hiding in a bunker during the blitzes of World War II.

“The children in the shelter in the blitz are discovering the play in real time, at the same time as the audience,” Brown said.

“They initially think it’s a ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure, but as the night progresses they discover the bleak and unpleasant aspects of the play, so it’s interesting to see the audience discover the ambiguities along the way with the characters. The cliché when you’re in rehearsal (for Henry V) is that it’s neither for or against war but about war in all its complexities.

“The reason (Henry V) has lasted so long ... is because of what the play has to say, and looking at the world around us, at Syria, at Gaza and Iraq (you realise Shakespeare) really was ahead of his time and did these things before anyone else and better than anyone else.”

There will also be a special performance for secondary students on Friday at 11am, which has been subsidised by Deakin University as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations.

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