Review: Henry V – a solid conclusion to this year’s kings double-bill

Bard on the Beach completes this year’s history cycle with its production of Henry V, and while for me not as strong as its counterpart Falstaff, it still entertains and primes us well for next year’s final installments.

We pick-up in Henry V where Falstaff ends: Prince Hal is now King, out to prove that his youthful days are now over and to make his dead father proud.  Against great odds, Henry wages war on France, ultimately defeating the mighty French war machine despite being outnumbered, and in the end, gets the girl.

The entire cast of Falstaff, with the exception of Dean Paul Gibson, returns to the stage in Henry V.  While some return to their original characters, most of the actors now take on new roles in this next chapter.  (I must admit to being a somewhat in awe of all these actors who by the end of Henry V will have taken on more than five hours of Shakespeare.)

Henry V
Henry V (Alessandro Juliani) and some of his court in the Bard on the Beach production of Henry V.  Photo by David Blue.

Juliani continues to mature his character as the newly installed King bringing him squarely into the role of a leader who must grapple with his humanity and past.  In one of the most chilling moments, we watch as Bardolph is executed, feeling the king’s desire to do what is right and just but with greatest of pains in sending his friend to death.  Other stand-outs here include Wheeler as the Chorus/Quickly reprising her role from Falstaff and Kevin McNulty as a slightly mad Archbishop of Canterbury.

While most of the cast in Falstaff played more than one character, some of them work even harder here as Director Meg Roe barely gives them time to breathe as they quickly transform from English to French and back again.  This is particularly evident in a couple of battle scenes where at one moment you see them as the English attacking a French fortress, only to be pushed back by the French in the next.  Essentially fighting against themselves, Director Roe cleverly draws us into the chaos of war.  Not so successful though were the more choreographed fight scenes from Rob Kitsos which took on a dance-like quality that tended to disrupt the flow.

While not as lush and sexy as in Falstaff, Sheila White’s costumes, while simple, are beautiful to look at and with quick additions or small changes, the cast moved efficiently between roles: grey for the British and blue for the French.

While a solid conclusion to the Studio Stage double-bill, it really is not necessary to see both Falstaff and Henry V and if you are only able to see one of the two I would recommend Falstaff.  But if you are, like me, totally sucked into Shakespeare’s kings, you’ll want to see both in preparation for the final two plays in the cycle next year.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars Bard on the Beach
Vanier Park
Now through 25 September 2010

Visit http://www.bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.

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