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Review: Henry V, the Barn Theatre – and, live stream theatre its very self

We’re sick of the C word. I know. And we’ve all got things and people we’re missing. Some are obviously more up the priority list but we mustn’t dismiss the little things in life that keep us going and, to put it bluntly, sane.

I miss my family.

That goes without saying, But we all miss our little pleasures in life too. The arts and culture enrich our lives and if we didn’t realise it before, we’re sure as hell realising it now.

Residing in Manchester, my blog of course is Manchester focussed – write what you know and, of course, what’s relevant to your life and those around you. But in the world of lockdown and isolation, we’re entering a virtual world, now more than ever before. And so our entertainment, ‘social’ lives and soul food now has a geographical irrelevance.

And it is with thanks to the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, for my first virtual press night and live streaming theatre experience. I know I’m probably lagging behind the times on this one, but being so lucky to have so many theatres, galleries, music venues and just places on my doorstep in Manchester, I’ve never tapped into the concept.

I wanted to review the production but also the experience itself.

The way it worked with the Barn Theatre is they used their social channels to host a link to the ‘live’. I should point out, at this point, that all the creatives are on lockdown too so this was a live stream of a performance filmed in May 2019. No flouting of the rules here.

Sat in my living room, I had my drink in hand (my theatre tipple of choice tends to be a glass of red, but this was a celebration – champagne was absolutely necessary) and sat through the countdown.

And you know? I was back in a theatre. I mean obviously not, but a play cannot be confused with a television programme, a film, because the very constructs are different, they’re in real time, they’re more ‘raw’ and whilst you yourself are not with the players in front of you, you’re still feeling the theatrical magic.

And so to the production itself…

Friday 27 March was World Theatre Day and so the perfect choice for the Barn Theatre to stream their past production of Henry V. And it is at this point that I want to emphasise that the stream is still available so if you like what you read, check it out yourself (links at the bottom).

Directed by Hal Chambers, the production stars Aaron Sidwell (Eastenders , Wicked, Ghost) and Lauren Samuels (Bend it Like Beckham, We Will Rock You, Grease) and is a modern take on Shakespeare’s Henry V in all but text (although I did note a couple of diversions, notably a chorus of ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home…’

Henry V in a nutshell tells the story of Henry V who assumes the throne after the death of his father (yep you guessed it), Henry IV.

After he’s insulted by the heir to the throne of France, Henry invades France to claim the throne he believes should be his.

Whilst preventing an assassination plot, Henry’s rousing speeches to his troops rally them to victory, against all odds. Next stop marry the Princess of France and both nations brought together.

This highly stylised version keeps matters fairly simple on stage in terms of props and scenery allowing the acting to literally take centre stage, but it is the technology, the lighting, the music that elevates it to a new and interesting place.

Rolling news has pretty much got us by the proverbial (and literal, dependent on your dna) balls, during this time of lockdown and our old mate pops up early on when we see ETV projected at the back of the stage bringing news and reaction of the death of Henry IV (later we see FTV reporting on the battle – you get the idea).

The famous text tells of the early life of the soon to be crowned Henry V living his best life with friends at the local tavern. This production brings this screaming to our attention as it flashes to him engaged in a rave and all that comes with it (including flashing lights and some of the fantastic and original composition by Harry Smith.

In fact in an interview shown during the ‘interval’ of the live stream conducted by Barn Theatre Artistic Director, Iwan Lewis, Aaron Sidwell tells of the cast’s preparation by way of a method night out of drinking and general cavorting (all very PG and professional, mind) whilst all in character.

With on-screen graphics (I can’t be sure how this translated to the physical production in the theatre) and overheard voxpops commenting on events, the production really does give an established text an exciting injection of post-modernism and relevance.

And speaking of, Henry V’s rallying speeches really can be said to resonate as we tune into our daily briefings with the government and their aides during this time of difficulty and crisis.

Who can forget the infamous

Once more unto the breach…

As we’re urged by ‘our leaders’ to fight the war against Corona and stay in our houses.

And so, whilst I applaud this original production itself from all players and creatives involved from the Barn Theatre, I equally applaud the live stream itself put together so early on in our ‘new world’ bringing wonderful theatre and artistry into our homes.

You can live stream Henry V for free by using the Barn Theatre social channels :here on Youtube, Facebook or Twitter.

You can also download a free copy of the interactive programme and exhilarating soundtrack by visiting http://barntheatre.org.uk/

During these tough times, the theatre is looking at a £250,000 loss and potential permanent closure and so any donations to the #saveourbarn can be made through their website.

And so as one of our oldest forms of culture is brought bang into the 21st century by both the approach to the production itself and the concept of live theatre, join me in supporting our arts and, indeed our own sanity, by continuing to feed our souls during this new (and hopefully temporary) normal.

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