HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII’ by Gareth Russell

Written with an exciting combination of narrative flair and historical authority, this interpretation of the tragic life of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, breaks new ground in our understanding of the very young woman who became queen at a time of unprecedented social and political tension and whose terrible errors in judgment quickly led her to the executioner’s block.

On the morning of July 28, 1540, as King Henry’s VIII’s former confidante Thomas Cromwell was being led to his execution, a teenager named Catherine Howard began her reign as queen of a country simmering with rebellion and terrifying uncertainty. Sixteen months later, the king’s fifth wife would follow her cousin Anne Boleyn to the scaffold, having been convicted of adultery and high treason.

The broad outlines of Catherine’s career might be familiar, but her story up until now has been incomplete. Unlike previous accounts of her life, which portray her as a naïve victim of an ambitious family, this compelling and authoritative biography will shed new light on Catherine Howard’s rise and downfall by reexamining her motives and showing her in her context, a milieu that goes beyond her family and the influential men of the court to include the aristocrats and, most critically, the servants who surrounded her and who, in the end, conspired against her. By illuminating Catherine’s entwined upstairs/downstairs worlds as well as societal tensions beyond the palace walls, the author offers a fascinating portrayal of court life in the sixteenth century and a fresh analysis of the forces beyond Catherine’s control that led to her execution—from diplomatic pressure and international politics to the long-festering resentments against the queen’s household at court.

Including a forgotten text of Catherine’s confession in her own words, color illustrations, family tree, map, and extensive notes, Young and Damned and Fair changes our understanding of one of history’s most famous women while telling the compelling and very human story of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous age.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I have to admit that I am no fan of Catherine Howard. By the time that Henry married Catherine, he was fat, demented and most importantly (to me), had turned against my book-husband Thomas Cromwell. So I read little about wife number five. The whole Catherine Howard incident is just one big hot mess, and one of the main indicators of how far Henry had already fallen.

King Henry had spent twenty years on the throne as a golden king, praised by all in word and art, so to cement a legacy, but Henry’s third decade showed signs of decay. By the time that Henry had denied Anne of Cleves because of his erectile issues, it was little Catherine Howard who had accidentally wandered into view, as a teenage attendant to Anne. Anne of Cleves was an educated, travelled woman and Henry was more in need of a child who had no thoughts or opinions and could be manipulated by a man who would make a better grandfather than lover.

The English court expected women to be virgins, perfect and untouched in every way. Yet men roamed freely, unguarded in their desires, as if their meddling had no effect on virginity. Catherine Howard was a simple girl, raised away from family and without anyone really caring for her. Catherine makes the perfect victim to be targeted by an old weirdo.

Russell’s book tells the story about how court life would have been in Catherine’s time; the late 1530’s were an awful time all round, with Henry’s leg increasingly pressing upon his sanity, the country in revolt, and Anne of Cleves getting the blame for Henry’s lack of male…. well… just, ew.

Catherine was a victim of her own lifestyle, one she never chose. Without a decent education or people to confide in, she fell for charms of young men liked a pretty face. A sweet girl told whispers of love is easy prey for older men. By the time Catherine was sent to court to wait on the new Queen Anne, she had already become a victim of her own existence.

Henry, a fat, old man with a desire to feel special and young again, laid eyes on a girl, not a seductress or whore as claimed, but an innocent girl who was whisked away in the glamour of being courted by the most powerful man in the land. Henry had been married to Catherine’s cousin, Anne Boleyn, and yet Catherine had not been shown a caution around the king, and soon was caught up with a man who never loved her, rather loved the idea of her instead.

Catherine, covered in gowns and jewels, played the role of token on the king’s arm, only to fall in love – with someone else. A man who worked in Henry’s chamber, a man known to be a disgusting human being in his own right, was happy to let Catherine’s feelings run away with her, thinking she could have romance in her life while playing concubine to an ailing fat man.

Catherine’s life ended far too soon, scared, alone and never believed in her words and deeds. A young girl who wanted, needed, to be loved, was instead used and abused by everyone, a minor detail in a long story of depravity that was the end of Henry’s reign. It is nice to read about the life and facts of Catherine, instead of whore narratives.

 

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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The House of Beaufort’ by Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses were a tumultous period in English history, with family fighting family for the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the throne? What made his mother the great heiress of medieval England? And how could an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy? Whilst the Houses of York and Lancaster battled directly for the crown, other noble families of England also played integral roles in the war; grand and prestigious names like the Howards, Nevilles and Percys were intimately involved in the conflict but arguably none symbolised the volatile nature of the period quite like the House of Beaufort. The story of the Beauforts, with their rise, fall and rise again, is the story of England during the period, a dramatic century of war, intrigue and scandal. Many books have been written about individual members of the dynasty but never has the whole family been explored as one. This book will uncover the rise of the Beauforts from bastard stock of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, to respected companions of their cousin Henry V, celebrated victor of Agincourt. The Beauforts fell with the House of Lancaster during the 1460s and 1470s, and their hopes and fortunes came to rest upon the shoulders of a teenage widow named Margaret and her young son, Henry. From her would rise the House of Tudor, the most famous of all England’s royal houses and a dynasty who owed their crown to their forebears, the House of Beaufort. From bastards to princes, the Beauforts are medieval England’s most intriguing family.

cover and blurb via nathenamin.com

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One family which doesn’t get enough love are the Beauforts. Nathen Amin has done everyone a favour and produced this wonderful and descriptive book to shed more light on this remarkable line. The story of the Beauforts is one that can last forever. Many families such as the Lancasters, Yorks, Warwicks are often mentioned, when the Beauforts are most important and relevant from the late 1300’s right down to today’s noble families.

Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his then-mistress Katherine Swynford, remarkable people in their own right.  Joan was the only girl born to this first generation of Beauforts, named illegitimate offspring. Joan married very young and had two daughters, but by her mid-teens, her parents gained a legitimate marriage recognised by the Pope, and Joan herself was already a widow. Joan went on to marry into the Neville family, and produced 14 Beaufort-Neville babies to go with her previous two, and her husband’s eight from his first marriage. Eek!

Nathen Amin has drawn on a countless amount of resources in order to produce such an interesting level of detail, and I found I took so many notes that the whole book was in my notebook. Had the Beauforts not gone on to do so much more, the information on Joan Beaufort could be enough for a book on its own.

Joan’s children went to create the families which ruled England and fueled both sides of the War of the Roses. There was the famous Neville line, including a queen of England and multiple earldoms, including the powerful Warwick family. Joan’s blood flowed through the families of the Dukes of Westmoreland, Somerset and Exeter. Thanks to Joan’s eldest daughter they joined the Mowbray family; another daughter married into the powerful Percy lineage, another into the dynasty of the Staffords, the Dukes of Buckingham. More sons became barons, the family boasted archbishops, and the baby of the family was Cecily, married to the Duke of York, creating two kings, Edward IV and Richard III. That’s just a selection of their greatness!

But nothing destroys families like the quest for power. The 1400’s saw much wealth and success, but also death. By the time Margaret Beaufort (great niece of Joan), who married into the Tudor family, saw her son Henry defeat Richard III for the crown, the Beauforts’ power had spread out like a spiderweb of noble houses.

I am not new to the history of the Beauforts, nor their struggles to take the throne, but I found plenty to enjoy in Amin’s book. If you are new to the subject, this is the number one place to begin. The author has written a book without bias, simply presenting facts written to be entertaining, instead of heavy and academic.

Truth always beats fiction, and while I read this in ebook style, once my hardcover arrives, this book will now sit on my top shelf, where I keep all the books I go back to and reference while I work. History is filled with incredible tales, and Amin’s book brings together so many people that you too could be an expert in no time.

FREE BOOKS THIS WEEK!

I think we can all agree it has been a tough week (month… year…), so how about some free books?

For three days, all of my titles will be free across all Amazon sites worldwide in Kindle form. The whole Canna Medici mystery series, the whole Secrets of Spain series about the Spanish Civil War (including the mammoth three-in-one if you want to grab it as a set) and my most recent release, set in 19th century Valencia.

Never purchased a Kindle/e-book? You are late to the party, but I know there are still some of you out there. No need to have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app on any device for free and the book(s) will also be yours for free.

There is a limit of 1,000 copies of each up for grabs, so if you want Night Wants to Forget, I suggest you get in quick because that particular title always sells out first.

The sale starts at 00:01 Wednesday June 7 and ends at 00:01 Saturday June 10. These times are PST, so check the time zone for your area. (It’s 7pm June 7 in New Zealand, 9am June 7 in Madrid, 3am June 7 in New York, as a reference)

Quick links (all other amazon sites are also eligible) –

The Pop-up Globe Reviews – Part 2: As You Like It

I am almost ashamed to admit to how many times I have worked/watched As You Like It at the Pop-up Globe – 33. According to my diary, I will reach 40 shows by the season’s end, which seems nuts. I did 30 Romeo and Juliet’s last season, and 37 Twelfth Night’s, but such was last season that I spent a lot of that time taking care of 101 different tasks. This time around, I have been in the playhouse all the time, and have the benefit of hundreds of hours of Shakespeare.

But again, the disclaimer – I tend not to review books/shows/articles/anything done by friends unless specifically requested. This is an exception; I was not asked to review, I chose to, and while I do have friends at the PuG, I have done all I can to be impartial. Also, no whining about spoilers; Shakespeare wrote it in 1599. The PuG season is 90% done.  Let’s not go down the spoiler road again.

As You Like it, written about 1599, can be seen in different ways – either a light and easy musical comedy, or a romantic comedy with multiple layers and themes running throughout. Either way, you are guaranteed a good night out, and from what I hear in the groundlings night after night, that is precisely how people feel. As You Like It at PuG has a huge number of people who visit over and over, not for the story, but for the men who play the roles, such is their likeability and charisma on stage. The sheer volume of squealing teenage girls lining up to get in each night is testament to the pull of the King’s Company at PuG have on the under 20’s of Auckland.

As You Like It is not one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, despite having the infamous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech neatly slipped in among the revelry. The beauty of As You Like It is the simplicity of the play, while Duke Senior and Duke Frederick are an older brother being usurped by the younger, Oliver and Orlando de Boys are an older brother denying the younger his inheritance from the deceased father. The story swirls about love, the love between Rosalind and Celia, two cousins together no matter what, and the love they find in the de Boys brothers, which comes together for forgiveness and healing in the stock-standard happy ending.

At the heart of it, As You Like It is goofball comedy. Touchstone (a role totally owned by Michael Mahony) is the fool of the court who runs away to the forest with Rosalind and Celia when they flee Duke Frederick in favour of the now-destitute Duke Senior. Touchstone is endlessly optimist and the cross-dressing done by Rosalind as she morphs into Ganymede gives an audience hours of homoerotic comedy that has many a parent covering children’s eyes while always laughing hysterically (I don’t bother; my 10 and 11yo boys don’t get it; my 12 and 13yo boys cringe through orgasms. Though, they are boys so will never miss a penis joke, regardless of age)

Men playing women playing men isn’t new to PuG; everyone’s darling, the talented  Aaron Richardson, did so as Viola/Cesario last season (who I saw in another As You Like It performance not two months ago). This year Jonathon Tynan-Moss takes PuG gender-bending one step further; playing Rosalind, who pretends to be Ganymede, who also impersonates Rosalind. Phew. To me, there is no PuG without the voice and excitement of Jonathon Tynan-Moss, and not just because I have watched well in excess of 100 shows (I want to guess about 130?) performed by him. There is no mystery involved as to how Tynan-Moss was brought back for a second season; if there was ever a man who could take on Rosalind in the 21st century, he is it. Despite the King’s Company being roundly advertised as an all-male cast, I have still stumbled upon probably 100 people genuinely surprised when they realised Rosalind is played by a man.

In a cast bursting with big personalities all vying for your love, As You Like It belongs to Tynan-Moss. From first appearing as a tearful young woman shaken by ill-treatment, to a girl who falls in love at first sight with the sweet Orlando, Tynan-Moss is as tender and opportunistic as any young girl in love. Then comes Ganymede, where Rosalind has to suddenly turn from court-softened girl to country-hardened man – ‘I could find in my heart to disgrace my man’s apparel and to cry like a woman, but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat’. Tynan-Moss brings the audience to constant laughter as Rosalind finds herself in Ganymede, something of a English chav in a doublet and hose (which I feel Shakespeare would have enjoyed). There is a ridiculous amount of comedy in how Rosalind grossly overcompensates in her attempts to seem manly, and how quickly those manly expressions collapse when Orlando appears, despite her best efforts. It takes a huge amount of physical presence to keep up with the male actor-playing vulnerable woman-desperate to be a man-who melts at the sight of her love, and I honestly wondered how that would all fly when PuG first announced the whole arrangement. How could a man understand a woman’s need to hide under the guise of a man for safety? Isn’t that whole aspect of the story lost by casting a man to play the role? The answer is yes, it is lost, and it doesn’t matter, even to this ardent feminist. It becomes irrelevant in a story of a gentle girl who goes out to seek her father in the forest and finds herself instead, all done beautifully in the hands of Jonathon Tynan-Moss.

The cast of As You Like It is filled to the brim with big characters, each worthy of a review on their own. Stanley Andrew Jackson is the cousin/sister we all wish we had, as Celia/Aliena, the voice of reason against Rosalind’s whimsy, and young and sassy enough to win everyone’s hearts. Pink-clad Chris Huntly-Turner steal every scene he enters as Le Beau, Duke Frederick’s French lover. You could put on a show called ‘The Life and Times of Le Beau’ and crowds would be forming around the block. Duke Frederick, played by Stephen Butterworth, is the villain of the story yet impossible to dislike. Joe Dekkers-Reihana, who plays shepherd Silvius, threatens to be the biggest love story of the play, in love with cold Phoebus (usually a woman in the play, but PuG went full gay romance to maximum effect).

This review is already getting too long, so time for the bullet points of what you need to come and see before it disappears forever (in no particular order)-

  • The enduringly sweet Adrian Hooke as Orlando as he composes songs to hang on the trees in the Forest of Arden and sings as Rosalind finds the messages of love. Any time Hooke looks at his Rosalind, and falls for Ganymede/Rosalind too, is just too precious to describe.
  • Stephen Butterworth playing the Duke Frederick, joining his courtiers as they cheerlead their wrestler in a match. I know I can’t do a high-kick like that!
  • Antonio Te Maioha playing both Charles the wrestler and Audrey the poor virgin shepherdess. Has a script ever had two such opposite roles in one play?
  • Any moment when John Bayne sings. Since As You Like It is the most musical of all Shakespeare plays, we are all in luck. Then he dangles from a roof and sorts out the mess which is a huge homoerotic love fest.
  • The pure physical comedy of Joel Herbert as Oliver, the less loveable of the de Boys brothers who ends up still being loveable.
  • Edward Newborn as Corin and Michael Mahony as Touchstone trying to seriously discuss the differences between the country and the court while sheep get drunk on stage and start judging humans.
  • The serious Stephen Papps as Jacques and Rawiri Paratene as regal Duke Senior as the only two adults on stage while everyone else is ridiculous.
  • The singing of Jonathon Martin as Phoebus outlines his love for Ganymede. Hands down the best moment of the show.
  • Joe Dekkers-Reihana describing what it is to be in love – ‘It is to be all made of fantasy, all made of passion and all made of wishes, all adoration, duty, and observance, all humbleness, all patience and impatience, all purity, all trial, all observance, and so am I for Phoebus’
  • Barry de Lore as Martext vomiting on the audience and high-fiving the Duke, who has leaves stuck in his hair. If de Lore’s vomits misses you, instead you may get hit with a flying tooth
  • A Titanic-themed montage between two male shepherds, a duke and his courtier and two male sheep
  • Oscar West as the most innocent sheep you could imagine, who then goes on to play a set of bagpipes

You don’t come to As You Like It in an attempt to get all cultured up (well, you could, I suppose). You come for the fun, and it is delivered night after night. The show is on constantly for 12 weeks, and keeping up the lols could be a real challenge, and yet the cast are laughing and smiling among each other at the end every night. I gave up working this show a while back and just enjoy the frivolity of the show with friends or by myself (hopefully no one has noticed how often I am there. One actor has, and I told him why I come so much, and he was lovely about it).

Gender at PuG – UGH

I looked up cast-lists of all-male As You Like It‘s in the 20th century. There were plenty, but are far outnumbered by mixed gender casts. Honestly all-male casts and the issue that raises reared its ugly head last season as well. I did my best to ignore the issue (despite being a card-carrying feminist) because I had too many other battles to fight. Shakespeare doesn’t have great female characters full stop. How men write women is still largely a misogynistic mess in 2017. All-male casts can hide behind the guise of being authentic to the work. As You Like It at PuG can’t do so, they sing One direction and Celine Dion. The actors create comedic overblown characters. There is nothing authentic in the production, and never claimed to be. The King’s Company is not all male to claim authenticity. Being all male makes the show unique as it celebrates single sex love in a way that mixed gendered shows could not. Whether that was intentional, I can’t be entirely sure. Making men play women adds layers  throughout the silliness of the play, in a way gender-mixed shows could not claim. The overall vibe would be totally different; not bad, just different. The PuG went with an all male cast because it worked last year.

The trouble is, an all-female cast would never be considered. It is still seen as risky or unpopular in 2017. There is the sexism that needs to be knocked on the head. A mixed gender cast would not be seen as a risk (it’s fair, assuming it’s an even split). Putting women in Shakespeare will not ruin Shakespeare. Emancipation of women didn’t destroy the world. Women fighting to vote didn’t destroy democracy, developing birth control didn’t destroy the family unit. Subsidising sanitary items will not be unfair to men (come on, society). Women on stage won’t hurt Shakespeare. Less alarm, more inclusiveness. Bringing in women instead of having all male casts will change the overall direction of the show, but that is not negative. It will show the young women in the audience (and there are plenty with PuG running show matinees) that there is a place for them on the stage, and in the world. You can’t be what you can’t see.

I would not dare want to hold a single actor accountable for the all-male cast decision. Not one of them is in the wrong. The perception that women on stage would be less successful is void; Much Ado About Nothing and Othello have women on stage (albeit not many, thank Shakespeare for that) and people pour into PuG to watch. Henry V has little for women, it’s a testosterone frenzy, written precisely to make England feel powerful over their enemies. Maybe women could play male roles. If a man can be a delightful young woman on stage, there is no reason why a woman cannot make an amazing soldier. I love every actor on the stage at PuG, male and female. I also respect all the women working backstage; without them, there would no shows to perform.

As long as male casts are seen as less of a risk, sexism is going to exist on stage. It is on audiences to part with their money for female-lead shows, not on PuG to drag slow minds into the 21st century. It’s easy to say PuG needs to make all the changes, but the naysayers are in comfy seats not taking on the audacious projects.

That’s the last time I will address this issue.

My next review is Much Ado about Nothing, plus my opinion on whether it is the shows or the building which draws the crowds.

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All opinions and photos are author’s own unless specified.

The Pop-up Globe Reviews – Part 1: Henry V

HENRY V – Come for the sword fights, but stay for the monologues

Source

First off, hello to everyone. Once again I slipped away into obscurity, and yes, it was due to working at another sports event. I am who I am. The World Masters Games have just finished in Auckland, and I have been with the organisation since last September. The main event itself was held over the last two weeks and now I am back to my desk, back to writing articles and finishing up my Thomas Cromwell Frailty of Human Affairs monster, which will be released on September 1 (pre-orders will be available soon).

As many of you know, last year I worked at Auckland’s Pop-up Globe. This year, for a variety of personal reasons (much to do with schedules), this new season of Shakespeare was to be one of watching the shows and being a volunteer. If you are still in the dark about PuG, it is a replica of Shakespeare’s second Globe in London (he burned the first one down with a cannon, because, you know, cannons). This year, PuG has two acting companies and four performances to be witnessed. I was going to review all four in one post, but you would have nodded off trying to get through it all. So here we are, first up with my personal favourite, Henry V.

Before I begin – a disclaimer. I tend not to review books/shows/articles/anything done by friends unless specifically requested. This is an exception; I was not asked to review, I chose to, and while I do have friends at the PuG, I have done all I can to be impartial. Also, no whining about spoilers; Henry V died in 1415 and Shakespeare wrote about it in 1599. The PuG season is 90% done.  Let’s not go down the spoiler road again.

The PuG first appeared in a dirty inner-Auckland carpark last year, with the classic ‘build it and they will come’ approach. And come they did. A temporary, exposed scaffold circle within the working dimensions of Shakespeare’s outdoor playhouse had a beautiful naivety about it. A world first; an idea born of passion and creativity, filled with people personally invested in its success. The public were to be personally welcomed in; my playhouse is your playhouse. Come and enjoy the spectacle. The PuG company of actors produced two shows, each so popular that by four weeks into the 12-week season, you could not get a seat. Some nights I had to get my ticket scanners to stop logging tickets and just get people through the gates because of the sheer volume of people lined up, desperate to get inside. People reappeared after Twelfth Night, still wiping tears of laughter, after Romeo and Juliet, out came hundreds of stunned faces.

For season two, the child has grown into a teenager, the same playhouse in a new spot. Now, a new location in an easy, flat (on grass, which for Auckland this rainy season has been a challenge), wide open location. No more queues at the box offices in an attempt to get in, with fingers crossed you can take someone else’s place. There are always seats and space to go around. No more queues at the gate or tackling the crowds to enter the site. Now you will be sent straight in with barely a smile, whereas last year staff chatted through endless discussions on the novelty of the project. The bar area is bigger and better this year, the wine drinkable, and you can easily find yourself making new friends before the playhouse even opens. Gone are the t-shirted volunteers, trotting back and forth, welcoming and discussing all things Shakespeare and PuG before the door opened (though they still around, still acting as ushers this year). The friendly faces at the merchandise box can answer all your queries and supply better programmes, and beautiful PuG posters (sadly the t-shirts did not make a comeback – staff only).

As I say, the child has grown up. The doors open and you are shown your seat, or to the groundlings yard, and told what you can and cannot do. The bulk of people are those who visited last year, or came this year due to the ear-chewing they got from friends for missing out. The playful innocence is dead, the novelty has worn off – now it’s down to business. And that is what you see on stage – last year saw two shows done by PuG, and another half-dozen shows by visiting companies (whose reviews ranged from ‘fun’, ‘intense’, ‘adequate’ to ‘can I get refund’). This year, PuG provides two acting companies, the Queen’s Company, a mix of ten men and four women performing Othello and Much Ado About Nothing, and the King’s Company, another all-male cast of 16 (like last year) with As You Like It and Henry V.

As I was saying – HENRY V – Come for the sword fights, but stay for the monologues

I have seen Henry V at PuG a whopping 28 times so far this season. I am a historian, okay? I had no plans to see every performance, I just somehow ended up seeing the first 20 and then decided to stick with the theme. We can wax lyrical about how Shakespeare murders history, but like it or not, much of how history is conveyed and believed is down to Shakespeare’s take on the facts (look at poor Richard III). Henry V is taken on by the King’s Company, with many of the cast of 16 taking on multiple roles to get the show done, a feat in itself. No need to be a history buff – the moment the actors appear in traditional costumes, you are right there in the mix of 1415 and 1625 (because, you know, Shakespeare). The costumes in Henry V are the jewel in PuG’s crown, and it is easy to be distracted by the desire to want to feel the fabrics, touch the crowns, flick the feathers in the hats. If they wanted to sell tickets for people just to get close the costumes, PuG could make a profit in just that alone.

Henry V is marketed as an action-packed night out, and it really is. The sword-fighting, the loud cannons, the flaming arrows have the crowd cheering and yelling with excitement. Gone is the temporary-looking scaffold behind the stage, now it sports a very permanent-looking backdrop, a brick castle facade, the heavens painted above for maximum effect. As I say, the novelty has worn off and PuG has gone pro. Fight Director Alex Holloway has been given free rein, hence the flaming arrows soaring overhead as Harfleur is tackled by the English. Shakespeare, when done well, uses little in terms of props. These fight scenes, clanging swords and all, takes this minimal prop usage and creates a spectacle that has groundlings stepping back from the stage for their own safety and then peering forward for the bloody climaxes. 10/10 for effect and enjoyment.

Shows so often have one or two performers who steal the show, and that effect goes in the right direction. Chris Huntly-Turner plays Henry with a performance which will leave you cheering for war, not exactly a sensation many want aroused within them. From the beginning, Henry comes across as both eloquent and rational, compelling and convincing. Henry was a man not born for the throne, but through battle became beloved, though Shakespeare cast him as a man who played away his youth and then became a King and a hero. Huntly-Turner shows that transformation; a young man prepared to stand alongside all who came before him, to take France by force, as his right. Henry is charming, honest, trusted and alluring in Huntly-Turner’s hands. He can swing a bloody sword and threaten rape and pillage at Harfleur, but can pray to God through tears when help is needed. He can put convincingly condemn lifelong friends to death or plead for the love of a French princess with equal poise and confidence. One school matinee gave me the opportunity to witness school boys gathered around Huntly-Turner, who sat with them, talking of the internal conflict a King has when sending men to their gruesome deaths, before giving them tips on winning the heart of a lady not half an hour later, the boys’ eyes lit with excitement the whole time. In a play which shows the realities of living during the Hundred Years’ War period, Huntly-Turner has the crowd laughing and cheering as well as in tears. It is possible to watch the entire performance through Chris Huntly-Turner’s facial expressions alone, such is the depth of the actor’s performance.

The sheer volume of passion in the voice of Michael Mahony, playing the role of Chorus (believed to have been played by Shakespeare himself), is enough to interest even the biggest Shakespeare beginner. Clad in an orange vest and pushing a cleaning trolley, Mahony sets the scenes, guides the audience, and bridges the gap between actor and audience member, regardless of the subject matter. From opening the play with a stirring pageant of words, to guiding the crowds over the sea, to the sad final moments about what came after Henry V, Mahony is a driving force in the cast, forever being in the action, and relatable to everyone in the playhouse.

Another stand-out is Joe Dekker-Reihana, who takes on the roles of both Boy and Princess Katherine. Dekker-Reihana brings a sincere and tenderfooted character to life, playing Boy, a commoner sent to fight for the King. Armed with a frying pan, Boy is subjected to much terror and pain as bit by bit, all he knows is destroyed. Dekker-Reihana then turns completely into the Princess Katherine, and in a flawless switch between French and English, adds laughter to the show when needed and stops the unwavering Henry in his tracks, a force all of her own. It is no wonder the end is so satisfying for the audience.

I could go on and on but instead, I’m going to tell you what you need to go and see (or see again). Watch out for –

  • Stephen Butterworth as Montjoy, an overconfident Frenchman who starts off telling Henry where to get off and ends up giving profound respect. Regardless of how the relationship evolves, Butterworth is engaging and believable (bonus point – Butterworth also plays Alice, Katherine’s maid, and is a real sweetheart)
  • Jonathon Tynan-Moss as Jamy, a Scottish captain who brings levity right when it is needed. You will also love him as the purple-clad Duke of Berri, a tearful prostitute, and as the Earl of Cambridge crying ‘never did faithful subject more rejoice at the discovery of most dangerous treason’
  • The epic costume changes done by Edward Newborn who plays both base-born Pistol and the King of France. Newborn plays two very different characters and pulls it off without so much as a wipe of his brow (except when the mud and blood needs to come off I assume). Newborn also holds one of the most powerful moments in the show, when he and Katherine share a silent moment after the capture of Harfleur
  • Joel Herbert as Westmoreland is uttering convincing and terrifying with a sword in his hand. Also keep an ear out for him in Act 2 Scene 4: ‘Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt, and any thing that may not misbecome the mighty sender, doth he prize you at. Thus says my king; an’ if your father’s highness do not, in grant of all demands at large, sweeten the bitter mock you sent his majesty, he’ll call you to so hot an answer of it, that caves and womby vaultages of France shall chide your trespass and return your mock in second accent of his ordnance!’
  • The moment Antonio Te Maioha appears as the Constable of France, ready for the final showdown with Henry

Much has been made of the use of all-male casts at PuG, but I will save my opinion on that for my As You Like It post. Henry V only has four female characters anyway (thanks, Shakespeare), and in this, three are played by men, one omitted completely. Hey, Shakespeare – #ifshecanseeitshecanbeit

Henry V still has five shows left. I will be there for all of them and you should be too. I recommend standing: I always do. I have a great ability to be invisible, so my constant presence has probably gone unnoticed, though my blanket in the colours of the flag of St George might make me stand out more on these last few cold nights, so come and say hi.

The dates are (pop ‘groundlings’ into the promo box for a $1 ticket) –

I shall be back tomorrow with my As You Like It review.

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All opinions and photos are author’s own unless specified.