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Friday 31 July 2015

Agincourt 600 project brings history to life with Solent

Solent media production students are bringing history to life once more

Four hundred and fifty years before the founding of Southampton Art College – the first of the institutions that would flow together to make up Southampton Solent University – the tired army of Henry V faced a vast French force across the muddy fields of Agincourt.

Henry’s victory there has come to epitomise English valour and resolve, immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry V. But earlier, before the battle – act two, scene two, in fact – Henry was caught up in an altogether darker incident on the docks of Southampton.

600 years on

2015 marks Southampton Solent’s tenth anniversary of receiving university status – but it also marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt itself. All through the year, the Agincourt 600 project is holding commemorative events, workshops, plays and historical talks.

And through a partnership with The Point and The Berry Theatres in nearby Eastleigh, Southampton Solent students are getting in on the act.

Back to the Shakespeare.

Act 2, Scene 2

As soldiers gather in Southampton to board the ships for France, Henry meets three of his most trusted advisers at nearby Portchester Castle – advisers who are secretly planning his assassination.

Henry baits them, asking whether he should show mercy to a drunk who spoke against him; all three advise him to put the man to death.

After handing each man papers that reveal their part in the plot against him, Henry throws the traitors’ own lack of mercy back at them and they are taken away to be executed.


Who are the new commissioners?
I am one, my lord. Your Highness told me to ask for my commission today.
You told me to do the same, my liege.
And me, too, my royal sovereign.
In that case, there is yours, Richard Earl of Cambridge; there
yours, Lord Scroop of Masham; and, sir knight, Grey of Northumberland,
this one is yours. (he gives each of them a piece of paper) Read them,
and trust that I recognise your true worth.

It’s one of the play’s most famous scenes – and the Southampton Plot, as the conspiracy became known, has continued to excite theatre-lovers ever since.

Yet the nature of the plot continues to puzzle historians. Henry Scrope (or Scroop), one of the conspirators, was a favourite of Henry’s and appeared to have no real reason to betray him; he claimed at his trial to have joined the conspiracy in order to expose it, but his statement earned him no mercy.

Across the Dark Water

It’s clearly a conundrum that has intrigued Ben Musgrave, commissioned by The Berry Theatre to write one of three new plays the theatre will put on as part of the Agincourt 600 celebrations and the Road to Agincourt project. Musgrave’s Across the Dark Water recreates the events of the Southampton Plot, exploring the conspiracy from Scrope’s perspective.

Between 21 July and 1 August the production is touring historic sites in the Southampton area, from Portchester Castle, where Henry confronted the plotters, to St Julian’s Church in Southampton – the last resting place of the Earl of Cambridge after his execution.

Sharing the experience

And as the production retraces the conspirators’ footsteps, Southampton Solent students have been right there with them, recording the journey.

Second-year students from the media culture and production degree filmed both a five-part serial adaptation of the play and a full-length feature version – working with the original professional cast and The Berry Theatre’s production team, including Artistic Director Owen Calvert-Lyons and Drama Development Manager Dan Hill, at historic locations such as Portchester Castle (see gallery, below).

“The Berry Theatre is particularly excited to be developing this project in partnership with Southampton Solent University,” Owen Calvert-Lyons says. “The students are treated as equals within the creative process – ensuring that on graduation these young creatives have the sort of professional experience that is so sought after by potential employers.”

The students are responsible for filming, lighting, sound and all aspects of post-production, working to tight deadlines to make the film ready for screening on 5 August, and the series ready for release online from 23 September.

“Working in a professional environment with professional actors, scriptwriter and directors, and having the chance to include such an experience in your portfolio, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.” – Anna Margeti, from the media culture and production degree. “I loved working with the theatre production team and my production/post-production crew on this fantastic film!”

Engaging with student talent

Solent’s part in Agincourt 600 doesn’t end with the Southampton Plot; students from the University’s outside broadcast course will also be working on another of The Berry Theatre’s plays, The Road to Glory. A student team will live-stream the production at the end of October, enabling audiences across the country and internationally to be a part of this unique commemoration.

Associate Professor Steve Hogg, who set up this opportunity with the theatre, is keen to see even more engagement with Solent’s student talent. “This is a fantastic example of how the local arts community and our students can collaborate to produce creative work. For the theatres it extends their audience reach, and for our students it provides an outstanding work experience opportunity.”

You can find out more about the Agincourt 600 project at

More information about Across the Dark Water can be found at


Solent students filming at Portchester Castle: