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A Note from the Director


Observer, September 2004
Reviewer: Toby Allanson

SHAKE-A-Leg and Tour De Force have now staged four productions in Saffron Walden and their latest, Shakespeare's Henry V, confirmed just how lucky we are to have them. The two companies have forged a reputation for creating wonderful "community" shows in which the worlds of professional and amateur drama collide to tremendous effect. Henry V was no different.

Directed with the pace of a thriller by Joe Harmston, Friday's production at Saffron Walden County High School gripped from the outset and refused to let go. The two battles at Harfleur and Agincourt proved to be stunning set-pieces.

The large cast wielded their swords with impressive skill and, with the combatants rushing to the fight from all sides, the audience was drawn into the bloodshed. The build-up to Agincourt also included a fabulous directorial touch when, for a few desperately tense moments, the hall was filled with nothing but the nervous, heavy breaths of the British troops as they stared with terrified eyes at the horror that awaited them.

Among a cast that delivered impressive performances all round, Adrian Metcaife stood out as Canterbury and the rabidly patriotic Welshman Fluellen, as did Simon Linnell as the roguish Pistol. However, it was David Sturzaker in the title role who stole the show. He captured every nuance of the character, with a performance that was inspirational, funny, moving, tortured and utterly captivating.

I'm sure I was not the only member of the audience who wanted to leap out of my seat and knock some heads at the end of his masterfully delivered "once more unto the breach" speech. Watching Sturzaker in these modest surroundings felt like a Beatles at the Cavern Club moment. If there is any justice, he is surely destined for superstardom.

The set, backed by a glorious tapestry woven by the cast, was splendid and given the oppressive threat of impending violence that hung over much of the play, lit in a suitably sombre fashion.

In many ways. Henry V was the perfect play for Tour De Force and Shake-A-Leg. Just as the British troops united at Agincourt to achieve something truly great, so these two companies have brought the local community together to create a production that will live long in the memory.

Saffron Walden Reporter, September 2004
Reviewer: Pam Jenner


PROFESSIONAL and
amateur actors teamed up to present an outstanding performance of Shakespeare's Henry V at Saffron Walden County High School.

 

Uttlesford based Shake-a-Leg community theatre company is to be congratulated on once again bringing professional touring company Tour-De Force to the town, enabling amateur actors and back stage crews to work on a first class, large-scale production and give the audience a chance to see a West End quality performance. Henry V was an immensely challenging play to put on but because Tour de Force did not have the constraints of having to pay every member of the cast, it was able to indulge in the luxury of a huge band of soldiers and ladies of the court.

 

Director Joe Harmston divided up the part of the chorus amongst the cast, enabling every member of the 50-strong band to have their moment in the spotlight. This gave everyone a sense of being part of the play and encouraged those in the smaller roles to maintain concentration. The fight scenes were spectacular and the singing, under the direction of Sara Grimshaw, was faultless.

 

The standard of acting was so high among the amateur members of the cast that it was often difficult to tell them apart from the professionals. However it was a professional cast member who stood out for me as outstanding and that was Adrian Metcaife as Canterbury and Fluellen. He had the charisma and presence on stage that I felt that West End actor David Sturzaker lacked as Henry V. While David's performance was adequate and did not detract from the overall production, he did not quite manage to capture the strength of character and conviction that enabled Henry to persuade so many people to support him.

 

This production was dedicated by Tour de Force to the late William Haden, of Saffron Walden, a professional actor who founded Shake-a Leg and who played the Duke of Exeter with the company in a previous production. He would have been proud of Henry V and its enthusiastic cast. Long may Shake-a-Leg and Tour de Force continue to work in Saffron Walden.