Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Within the confines of Ustinov Studio, the prologue to Henry V feels more pertinent than usual.

This is a play on an epic scale: a game of thrones in which kings, nobles and common people face the terrors of war. It is the story of failed diplomacy, of an army traversing the sea in a great fleet, of siege and sickness, of war crimes – all played by 13 actors in a small studio at the Bath Theatre Royal.

And it is breath-taking.

Performed by Bristol’s innovative theatre company Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, Shakespeare’s Henry V is an engaging, thrilling and deeply moving piece of theatre. While this is the tale of the young king waging war on France and his victory at the Battle of Agincourt, it is also an exploration of power, leadership, responsibility and the concept of kingship.

This is a pared down performance with a minimal set (an assemblage of low metal cages and piles of stones), a few well-chosen props and thoughtful costuming, quickly indicating an actor’s changes of roles. The aesthetic, simple though it is, does not pin the performance to one particular time: the cages hint at trenches and the battles of World War I; a traitor’s use of a mobile phone to receive transferred funds alludes to contemporary theatres of war. This is not a play about a war, but about War, all war – the guilt and responsibilities of those who wage it, and the impact on those who take part in it.

So many interesting elements - this was a very gender neutral production in which the French princess Katharine is a shaven-headed warrior in a smart lilac suit. The young English king is portrayed as struggling not only with his role but his emotions, troubled by grief and spurred on by impulsive anger.

What makes this production extraordinary is the combination of Shakespeare’s writing in one of his most famous plays, and its superb rendition by the uniformly strong cast. Rarely have I heard Shakespeare’s language brought to life with such clarity and expression. The lines were not pronounced but inhabited.

Perhaps unusually, the stand-out performance was that of the chorus, Joanne Howarth. It was a joy to hear her speak and, magician-like, she conjured up compelling scenes and aptly held the complex structure of the play together.

Altogether, an unforgettable performance.

HENRY V is at the Ustinov Studio till Saturday July 21, prior to a national tour. Tickets are £15 plus a £1.25 booking fee from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 01225 448844 or online at