Once more unto the beach, dear friends. In fact, the Big Bang restaurant’s award-winning sandy summer playground is one of the few parts of the Oxford Castle complex not visited by the three-strong cast and their promenading audience in the course of Creation Theatre’s immensely entertaining new production of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
From the dedicated performance area beneath the old prison walls, where the show begins, we are led around the corner to the garden behind the Malmaison Hotel to meet Pistol, Nym and the other London low-lifes, and then to another grassy space beside its side door for an encounter with the French court. We shall later be back again at all three, the garden supplying a very effective venue for the “lucky few” of the English Army to pitch their tents for Agincourt.
Young Hal himself — athletically portrayed by Morgan Philpott — races to the summit of the Castle Mound to deliver his earlier rallying call to his troops before Harfleur. This time the audience does not follow but, clustered below, hears his stirring words relayed through loud speakers.
Necessity has proved the mother of invention where this production (director Charlotte Conquest) is concerned.
After last year’s wash-out summer, which threatened Creation’s very existence, the company has been obliged to take a cheaper minimalist approach this time. As it happens, Henry V lends itself well to this. Besides its obvious staginess, with a Chorus constantly reminding us that what we are witnessing is not real, the play has an episodic structure. It may possess a cast of 40 characters, not to mention soldiers, messengers and attendants; but since they are generally shown to us in much smaller groupings, it is easy — which actually, of course, it is not — for only three actors to present them.
They are three extremely good and very versatile actors. Mr Philpott gives powerful accounts of Hal’s great speeches, bringing tears to the eyes with the St Crispin’s spirit-raiser. He shows, too, his mastery of richly comic voices as the incomprehensible Scottish officer Jamy and a French Dauphin who might have stepped straight from an episode of ’Allo ’Allo!
Still funnier, and with oodles of welcome charm, are Rhys King and Christopher York as the (bearded!) French princess Katharine being given an English lesson by her lady Alice. Your critic supplied the fingers pointed to during her enumeration of the various parts of the body. Earlier, to great acclaim, a member of the audience had been pulled into the action — sometimes three players aren’t quite enough — to portray the treacherous Sir Thomas Grey.
As I hope I have made clear, this is a bright and entertaining production, with the accessibility for which Creation has been justly famed over 17 years. All the traipsing about might be a bit wearing, but it’s worth it.
Until September 14
01865 766266, creationtheatre.co.uk