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Canberra Today 4°/8° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Taimus wants to kick big goals with Henry V

Jake Fryer-Hornsby, who plays Henry V and Marni Mount, as Princess Catherine. Photo: Emily Hanna

After a break of a year, Lakespeare, Shakespeare by the Lakes, is back in action with a rugby-themed production of King Henry V.

It’s a long-held dream for director Taimus Werner-Gibbings and the first history play they’ve ever done after four comedies. He’s also always thought Romeo and Juliet could work, too, if given a Canberra framework. 

Describing the production as opening up “a bridge from the 15th century to the 21st, where sport often serves as a cipher for war,” he’ll be staging it as a battle between the English rugby team and the French team, played on the French home turf, Stade d’Agincourt.

Henry V is an obvious choice for a large-scale production and I was lucky enough to see John Bell perform it once in a tent pitched in Rushcutters Bay. 

As well as the lakeside locations, they’ll play at Viking Park Stadium in Tuggeranong and, for the first time, by night on the Patrick White lawns at the National Library. At least four of the shows will be free.

Werner-Gibbings is executive producer and one of the founding team of Lexi Sekuless, Duncan Driver and Paul Leverenz. 

By day a public servant and a Labor candidate in the coming ACT elections, it’s his first go as director for Lakespeare, he says. 

He’s pretty well on his own this time – Sekuless is busy running her Mill Theatre in Fyshwick and Driver is a Shakespeare academic at the ANU, but still on hand to provide dramaturgical advice.

Werner-Gibbings believes Henry V is very good for outdoor treatment. 

“Ours is a very sports-themed production… even Shakespeare uses tennis balls as a political metaphor,” he notes, adding, “also, outdoor locations have lots of grass, so there’s lots of opportunity for colour and momentum.” 

Cast members from left, Marni Mount, Annabelle Hansen, Tamus Werner-Gibbings (director) and Anneka van der Velde. Photo: Emily Hanna

There’s no “Wooden O” (The Globe Theatre) because people sit on the ground or further back in chairs.

They can put numbers on the back of characters’ shirts, so you can work out which team they’re in, and their colours are simple – blue, for the French, white for the English and purple for the Duke of Burgundy.

”We’re encouraging the audience to dress in blue and white, and the English and French flags will be flying,” he says.

They’ve retained as much of the original text as possible, but have changed the Welsh captain, Fluellen, to become a New Zealander.

He’s not making a particularly strong point out of gender-bending, so Henry is played by a male and Princess Catherine by a woman, although Lakespeare veteran Anneka van der Velde plays four males and one female, Queen Isobel, in Kath & Kim style with a touch of the hippie thrown in. 

Marni Mount, is back in Canberra to play Catherine of Valois, who is strategically married off to Henry, as a football cheerleader, but in the scene in which she’s learning English she still retains all her “lightness and skill”.

Mount has been in Melbourne since 2021, when she moved to the Victorian College of the Arts to complete a masters in directing and she’s now written a play called Trophy Boys, about power and privilege school debating. She’ll soon bring that to Canberra.

She’s performed with Lakespeare before in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and is thrilled to be back to play in front of a “home crowd”.

Jake Fryer-Hornsby admits that Henry is “an absolute gem of a part to play.”

He’s not long finished working for six weeks on a psychological thriller The Surfer, with Nicholas Cage in Yallingup, WA, and is another old hand with Lakespeare, having played in As You Like it.

Here he gets some of the best oratory ever written by Shakespeare, including the speech at The Siege of Harfleur, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” and the even more famous speech before the Battle of Agincourt. No wonder the French hate this play so much.

A terrific aspect of the role to him is how the young rake, Harry, is shown developing into a great king, dressing up as a commoner and sneaking around the camp at night before the battle to find out what the real people are thinking. 

“He’s a Machiavellian, but an honourable Machiavellian,” Fryer-Hornsby says. 

King Henry V, opens at Tuggeranong Town Park, February 23. More at lakespeare.com

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