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The award-winning gents from Propeller theatre company talk to Rosy Moorhead
London Calling by The Clash, ageing Lothario pop stars and soldiers in balaclavas and army fatigues are not things you would normally associate with a Shakespeare play but they are exactly what you’ll get in a Propeller version of one. And the hugely popular all-male theatre company are bringing their double-bill of Henry V and The Winter’s Tale to the Hampstead Theatre next month, as part of their ten-month world tour.
“The plays have been brilliantly received everywhere,” says Gary Shelford from Finchley, who plays both Bardolph and Bates in Henry V and Hermione’s attendant and the First Lady in The Winter’s Tale, “that’s the main thing about Propeller – to make Shakespeare accessible.”
Propeller have been reimagining Shakespeare’s works in modern settings for more than 15 years, under the directorship of Edward Hall, the son of Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and half-brother of actor Rebecca Hall. Edward is also the artistic director at the Hampstead Theatre.
Henry V takes us from the corridors of Westminster to the fields of France, while The Winter’s Tale is set in both a made-up modern-day Italy and a West Country harvest fair that few might recognise as the Bohemia from the original.
I ask Gary, whose first tour this is with the company, how he’s finding touring both plays at the same time. “It’s harder work for the crew,” he laughs, “changing all the sets round all the time. For us, it’s quite hard to get your head around initially but it’s good fun, it keeps it fresh.”
For Henry V, the actors received fitness and tactical training from the British Army, including how to run forward under fire, crawl and rescue wounded comrades from the field to give them a sense of what being a soldier is like, and the result is an intensely physical show. “We’re charging around doing battles and there’s blood everywhere,” says Gary, 31, “it’s great fun.”
The Winter’s Tale is at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage from Tuesday, July 3 until Saturday, July 21 at 7.30pm with matinees on Saturdays at 2pm and also on Wednesday, July 18. Henry V is at Hampstead Theatre from Thursday, July 5 until Saturday, July 21 at 7.30pm, with matinees at 2pm on Wednesday, July 11 and Saturday, July 21. Details: 020 7722 9301, www.hampsteadtheatre.com