600 years ago after the celebrated victory at Agincourt, on the 23rd November 1415, and after having stayed overnight at Eltham, Henry V was met at Blackheath by the Lord Mayor and 24 aldermen who invited into him into city. Dressed in a purple robe he travelled down the old Dover Road (Old Kent Road) and was met by the clergy of Southwark and the Lord Mayor of London at the steps of St. George the Martyr, Borough before crossing London Bridge to make his way to the Tower of London, St. Pauls and Westminster. In solemn demeanour, he was met with much rejoicing, singing and good cheer by the citizens of London who had spent much time and money decorating the route with images, temporary castles, choirs, canopies and drapes depicting antelopes, suns, the King and St. George.
After making a successful application to the Agincourt 600 Commemoration Fund we commissioned a brand new semi-staged and audience participatory show with music composed by Richard Brown and the script and lyrics by Sarah Harding and Fern Dickson. Richard was for many years the musical director of the Royal Shakespeare Company directing over 200 shows. He writes extensively for children and was the Musical Director for the stage production of the Lord of the Rings. Sarah is a theatre and TV drama director whose recent projects include Poirot, The Bletchley Circle and Vikings. Fern studied English at Cambridge and was a journalist at Reader’s Digest for eight years. She has a lifelong love of choral singing and enjoys combining this with writing projects and recent writing for children includes FIRE! for the Classical Road Show with Richard Brown and Sarah Harding. The combination of catchy lyrics and wonderful story-telling brought to life by a fantastic score meant that the show was a tremendous hit with the participating students.
The generous grant ensured that we could offer the project free of charge to schools and this ensured broad participation. We invited all primary schools that are proximate to, or line the route, of Henry’s returning procession from the Thomas-a-Becket at Burgess Park, west on the Old Kent Road, to take part and just over 1,000 children from eight primary schools participated in three performances.
There were three performances staged in St. George’s Church, Borough (the first church to bear this dedication in London) on 22nd and 23rd October 2015. These dates were chosen to be as close to the 600th Anniversary of the battle date (25th October 1415) as could be, though the victory pageant itself followed a month later on the 23rd November.
All participating schools were supplied with a history pack and teaching resources that included the lyrics powerpoint, pupil wordsheets, scores and audio teaching CD. In school music teachers and/or class teachers spent several weeks teaching the songs to their students before we met in various schools the week before for ‘cluster rehearsals’. These rehearsals meant that all the audience participation songs were rehearsed to a high standard thus enabling any extra work or tweaks to take place before the concerts at St. George’s.
In 1415, the citizens of London erected two giants, taller than the city walls, on the fortified Southwark end of London Bridge 300m north of St. George’s, to ‘teach the French courtesy’. These giants were reflected in the set by creating two rising puppets made by Becci Kenning and school children from Goodrich Primary School. They made two appearances in the performance, once at the beginning during the pageant procession and then in the finale causing much excitement.
For the second set element we commissioned 20 large banners to reflect the ‘might of chivalry’ quoted in the first song, the Agincourt Carol, to give a suitably mediaeval feel. Each banner contains the shield designs of both an English and French knight present at the battle and they were painted by the children of St. Jude’s, Friars and Grange Primaries and our artist, Ceri Littlechild, before being finalised and hung from the balcony as part of the set which surrounded the audience.
The third set element was the stained glass window of St. George in the south aisle which was illuminated as the amplified off-stage voice of St. George spoke, to create an ethereal and other worldly effect. In the show St. George examined Henry’s conscience and questioned him on his reasons for going to war, a moral reflection that has contemporary resonance and brings the story telling up to date.
The 60 strong stage choir was composed of Year 4, 5 & 6 students from the combined choirs of Goodrich and St. Jude’s Primary schools who had been practising all term for the occasion. A few had walk-on parts as cherubs in the Shower of Gold and in offering Henry V the gift of tennis balls from the King Charles VI of France.
We are very grateful for the support of Sir Tony Baldry, the Trustees and staff of the Agincourt 600 Commemoration Fund who generously provided the grant for these concerts. We would like to thank in particular the headteachers, music teachers, teachers and support staff of participating schools, Fr. Jonathan Sedgewick, the Churchwardens, staff and volunteers of St. George’s Church for all the hard work and assistance they have given to bring these concerts to the children in our community.
J. Pix – December 2015
Tobias Deacon – Henry V
Ian Alexander – St George / Chancellor / Narrator / Knight
Annabelle Brown – Welsh Archer / Katherine
Sévan Stephan – Minstrel / Cheshire Archer / French Ambassador
Richard Brown – Musical Director / Keyboards
Nina Robertson – Flute / Piccolo
Kate Andrews – Oboe
Stephen Pierce – Clarinet / Soprano Saxophone
David Chatterton – Bassoon
Brian Newman – French horn
Philip Thorne – French horn
Ruth Shaddock – Trumpet / Cornett
Helen Roberts – Trumpet / Cornett
Abigail Newman – Trombone / Sagbutt
Steve Saunders – Trombone / Sagbutt
Steve Gibson – Timpani & Percussion
Manon Morris – Harp
Andrea Hess – Violincello
Composed by Richard Brown
Stage direction by Fern Dickson
Script by Sarah Harding
Executive Producers: Fr. Jonathan Sedgewick and Jonathan Pix
Production by Richard Mallett Arts Management
Adam Woolf – His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts
Stage Choirs, School Liaison by Jonathan Pix
The Stage choirs
On Thursday — St. Judes’s CE Primary School choir and Year 6 (by kind permission of Mrs. Fay Bucknall, Headteacher)
And on Friday they were be joined by the choir of
Goodrich Primary School (by kind permission of Mr. Craig Voller, Headteacher)
Timber kindly supplied by Whitten Timber, Peckham, SE15 5JT
Programmes printed by Copyprint Ltd.