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Henry V insight with Ben Wiggins 16

By Open Air Theatre


Ben Wiggins in rehearsal for Henry V

Ben Wiggins in rehearsal for Henry V

As on-stage technical rehearsals progress, we met up with cast member Ben Wiggins, to find out a little more about Henry V.

“It’s going to be a spectacle. We staged the first battle scene last night, and with the lighting, the smoke and the explosions it just gave me goose bumps.  We haven’t even got to Agincourt yet, but when we do it’s going to be mammoth!”

Having spent the past two years performing in the grounds of castles and manor houses around Kent, outdoor theatre is nothing new to Ben. “It’s awesome – such a different experience.  For an actor it’s vocally demanding as you are competing with the elements – the wind, planes overhead, the parakeets – which we have noticed are incredibly loud here! But it all adds to the ambience.”

There’s a clever devise at the start of the production which introduces Michelle Terry as King Henry, and the casting fluidity continues with several of the Captains also played by women.  “Someone said the other day that, by mixing it up, you start to hear the dialogue afresh – as if you are hearing it for the first time”.  It seems only fair then that Ben should play Princess Katherine, the French King’s daughter.

“I’ve never played a woman on stage before, and I’ve worked a lot with Rob (director Robert Hastie) in making sure that it doesn’t become a caricature. It’s about poise, and about moving in a softer, more feminine way – it’s not about eyelashes and wigs, or being flamboyant.   It’s really important that the audience buy into it. It then allows for the humour of that scene (when Katherine attempts to learn English) to come through the dialogue and the language, rather than it being comical because it’s a boy playing a girl.”

It’s an interesting choice too that, when Ben first enters as Katherine, he is fencing. “Normally Katherine is sewing, or reading, or trying on dresses, but that wasn’t what Rob wanted. We considered karate, and shooting, and then someone suggested fencing. It’s a really beautiful sport and very graceful, and when I first appear as Katherine, I’m wearing a mask, so it is quite androgynous.”

Ben also plays the role of ‘the boy’ who, once his master Falstaff dies, becomes part of the Pistol /  Bardolph / Nym gang. “The boy represents innocence and morality, all the things that aren’t reflected in the three men he hangs out with – and he’s constantly saying ‘I’m not like them; they’re cowards; I don’t want to steal things; I want to make something of myself and get a better job’. When he gets killed it’s doubly heart-wrenching because this stupid loss of life shows the complete futility of war, but it’s also the death of innocence. This young boy has hopes, aspirations, and dreams, and the audience has come to know him throughout the play, only to watch him be killed on stage – it’s quite harrowing.”

So what does Ben think the reaction will be to the production?  “There is something quite spectacular about the space we are in – the fact that everything is so open and yet it feels so intimate too.  The audience is going to get something pretty big, and there’s real surround sound too (that’s all I am going to say on that) – so I hope they’ll feel that this is pretty awesome. I do.”

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