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Under the direction of Edward Hall, all male touring theatre company Propeller has tackled both these strongly contrasted Shakespeare plays before - Henry V back in 1997, The Winter’s Tale more recently in 2005.

Stopping off at the Hampstead theatre (where Hall is also the current artistic director) both these productions are delivered with the speed, clarity and invention – and, of course, lack of female cast members - one has come to expect from his company, but it’s the former which proves the more impressive.

That’s not to say that The Winter’s Tale doesn’t have a lot going for it- but mainly once we’ve left behind the formality of the court of Leontes, the jealous King of Sicilia who needlessly suspects his wife of infidelity with his best friend.

Once we’re in Bohemia, the mood lightens and the sombre steel set gives way to the bucolic frolics, Glastonbury style, of the rustic community where his baby daughter grew up.

Tony Bell (who’s been with company from way back) lets rip with a leather-trousered Autolycus, stripping the Young Shepherd (Karl Davies) of everything but his hat without him even noticing, whilst a backing group of sheep (actors in Aran sweaters and woolly headgear) add to the atmosphere.

In contrast, the still, final moments of reconciliation prove unexpectedly touching even though Queen Hermione is played by a man.

With its muscular, testosterone-fuelled solders in sweaty vests and battle-stained combats acting as both participants and chorus, Henry V is a completely different affair.

They sing and they chant as they follow their king (a down-to-earth Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) into battle against the French.

Hall’s production is vibrant and powerful, capturing the rowdiness, the camaraderie and the sad waste of war as well as the gentle humour of the linguistically challenged wooing scene which brings this history play to an optimistic close.

Until 21 July
Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
Tube | Swiss Cottage
hampsteadtheatre.com



Photo: Manuel Harlan

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Theatre review: Henry V and The Winter's Tale by theatre company Propeller
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