Philip Arditti and Nina Bowers on English Kings Killing Foreigners

Photo: Lucy Hayes Photography

Philip Arditti and Nina Bowers write and star in their new, darkly funny and unflinching look at nationalism, intersecting identities, and Henry V. English Kings Killing Foreigners is inspired by their real-life experience of starring in several productions of Henry V, including at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2019 where they first met.

With the show up and running at Camden People’s Theatre from now until 11 May, we caught up with Philip and Nina, who answered our questions collectively, to find out more about the production.

Q&A with Philip Arditti and Nina Bowers

What can you tell us about English Kings Killing Foreigners?

English Kings Killing Foreigners is a fun frank exploration of Englishness, Race and Shakespeare told from the perspective of two outsiders to Englishness. It’s a dark comedy that follows two Actors preparing for a doomed production of Henry the V with a sprinkle of audience participation. Think the Office meets Black Swan, with a dash of identity politics.

At what point did you realise you could explore the themes of your shared experiences though a show?

We were both cast in a production of Henry V in 2019, and we couldn’t stop talking about the play about our experiences of England and Shakepeare and how it was super complicated for us. It really grew organically, we shared a sense of humour and a perspective, and slowly slowly the show started to grow. In a way the show is a reaction to being in more traditional plays especially Shakespeare plays. There was so much we wanted to say that we couldn’t, now with writing this play we’ve been able to really process all of those experiences into something new. We did a work in progress at the Arcola in 2021 and we felt at the end of that showing that we had something interesting to share.

Photo: Lucy Hayes Photography

What has the process of developing the show been like?

It’s been great. It’s been a long road almost 5 years in the making and been through so many drafts and changes to get to where we are with the show now. It took us a long time to settle on the flow of the show and what we wanted to focus on; whether we wanted to do a traditional written play or something more experimental and devised it took us a while to find that balance. Maybe it’s because we are both mainly actors and performers but it took us really getting it in front of an audience to fully find it. Working on it for such a long time has also really strengthened us as a duo, which has been so cool.

Was it difficult to balance these serious subjects with the comedy aspects?

I think we never set out for it to be either comedy or a serious show so the balance kind of happened naturally and it sits differently depending on the audience. In its essence the show relies on the absurdity of doing Shakespeare in the first place, that we are trying to make a 500 year old playwright eternally relevant, that’s where we find the humour.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

We hope the show sparks conversations and laughter and allows people to talk about Shakespeare and Englishness in a more robust way. Hopefully the next time someone buys a ticket to a Shakepare play they’ve got our show somewhere in the back of their minds.

English Kings Killing Foreigners is at Camden People’s Theatre until 11 May