Honest Puck's plucky five present Henry V
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Honest Puck's plucky five present Henry V

Utter first night, season-ending disaster! The live horses on stage ran amok, an actor lost a thumb in a swordfight and the theatre caught fire.

Their totally disastrous amateur attempt to stage Shakespeare's Coriolanus has sent the Figg and Topp Theatre Co. into wound-licking retirement for five years.

Scott Bowcher, Katharine Berry, Brendan Kelly, James Scott and Annie Liana Scottt in <i>Henry Five</I>.

Scott Bowcher, Katharine Berry, Brendan Kelly, James Scott and Annie Liana Scottt in Henry Five.Credit:Honest Puck

But now, in Canberra's Honest Puck Theatre Company's production Henry Five ("It's a play within a play" director James Scott explains) we watch the plucky Fig and Topp battlers making their comeback.

Honest Puck is a local theatre company which showcases graduates of the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art (CADA). Scott says Honest Puck has "devised this piece of theatre to bookend the Shakespearean tale, in order to lead the audience from our time into the medieval world of kings and queens – and back again".

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The imagined Figg and Topp company is a disparate band of five brothers and sisters. Between them they have little acting experience. One of them has more experience of juvenile detention than of the stage. But now they are to attempt Shakespeare's history epic Henry V, that armour-clad masterpiece centred around the 1415 Battle of Agincourt .

This time, wiser now, the comeback company won't be employing any live horses, using any naked flames or wielding any razor-sharp weapons. Not that the struggling players would anyway have been able to afford any horses. Even for costumes for Henry V the battling thespians have had to fossick in an Army Disposals shop.

So what audiences for Henry Five will see, James Scott explains, is Figg and Topp agonising over their rehearsals and then actually performing a serious (but abridged, hour-long) version of Shakespeare's play.

And, yes, Scott promises, that bonsaied version does include the play's grand passages, including Henry's famous Agincourt-eve speech magically motivating his English warriors: "From this day to the ending of the world ... we shall be remembered – We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Director Scott, says he is pleased to introduce a number of CADA's graduates in this work. He is joined on stage by Katherine Berry, Scott Bowcher, Brendan Kelly and Annie Liana Scott.

"We've workshopped characters for the fictional Figg and Topp Theatre Company which are very appealing to the actors. So Henry Five allows our ensemble to develop a modern character as well as stretch themselves with challenges presented by the Bard – an actor's delight!"

"As Artistic Director of Honest Puck, I can confidently say that we will continue to explore Shakespeare. It's not all we do, of course, but our fans do enjoy the fresh and funny ways we work with these classic texts."

Last year the company staged successfully The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Henry Five sounds so attractive that those who miss it (a little joke here, referencing Henry's Agincourt-eve oration) perhaps "shall think themselves accurs'd" they were not there to see it during its season at the CADA Theatre.

Henry Five. Adapted from Henry V by William Shakespeare. Directed by James Scott. Honest Puck Theatre Company. CADA Theatre. October 7 to 16. Tickets $20-$25. honestpuck.com.au.

Ian Warden is a columnist for The Canberra Times

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