Next production from Richmond Shakespeare Society is the traditional outdoor summer show, with this year’s offering of Shakespeare’s Henry V running at York House Gardens on 6 – 12 July.
It’s being staged in association with site-specific theatre company Bard Unbound and directed by Lara Muth, founder of Bard Unbound, in her first RSS directing role. Lara specialises in site-specific Shakespeare projects in heritage and museum settings.
‘I was honoured to be invited to direct for RSS as they approach their 75th anniversary season,’ she says. ‘I joined the Society last year and am impressed by their skill and commitment. York House Gardens is a spectacular and evocative location. It immediately conjured up images of earthworks and trenches from the Great War and commandeered and fortified country houses.’
Her view of the play is ‘essentially tragic’, and WWI retains that collective sense of visceral tragedy. ‘Agincourt was a moral victory rather than a strategic one and earned Henry the resources to return and finish what he started,’ she says. ‘He died on campaign, most likely of dysentery, at the age of 34 and never wore the crown he had so spectacularly achieved.’
Muth founded Bard Unbound in the USA where she first began creating site-specific work in museum settings. An installation of Shakespeare and Marlowe at the Tower of London formed her dissertation project for the RADA/KCL masters programme. A commission at Hampton Court Palace followed featuring a site-specific promenade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
‘My goal with Henry V,’ says Muth, ‘is to explore its emotional complexity by focusing on the personal cost of Henry’s strategic decisions. Placing it in a pre-Geneva Convention context heightens the poignant comparison to our own time of illegal wars, dodgy dossiers and extraordinary rendition.
‘I have enormous respect for this play. The role of Henry is as challenging at Hamlet without getting so much help from the text. Where a strong ensemble can save a weak Hamlet, Henry can’t survive as anything less than a dynamic, capable commander prepared to expose chinks in his armour. We’re lucky to have a very strong ensemble & an outstanding Henry played by Teddington-born James Ellis.’
Performances of Henry V run from 7.45 on 6-12th July (except Wednesday 9th). The ambitious show, supported by Twickenham Fine Ales and Hampton Fuel Allotment Charity, runs on the sunken lawn at Twickenham’s York House Gardens — bring a picnic and a rug or chair to sit on (licensed bar on premises). For details and bookings, call the box office on 020 8744 0547 or visit www.rss-mwt.org.uk