Review: Henry V
Slider: Julia Course and Claire Jullien with Patrick Galligan, Cameron Grant, Kristopher Bowman in Henry V. Photo by David Cooper.
Story Photo: Gray Powell in Henry V. Photo by David Cooper.
Anyone avoiding Henry V need not fear the Shakespearean classic now showing at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake. Co-Directed by Kevin Bennet, Director for last year’s The Madness of King George III, and Artistic Director Tim Carroll, Henry V puts a unique spin on the story of the English monarch. King Henry the V, whose heroics are credited with the success of invading French territory and the famous battle of Agincourt circa 1415 is intense and thought provoking.
The Shaw Festival has never performed Shakespeare since its inception in the 1960’s, therefore making this the first performance of The Bard. Henry V has been on stage at Stratford at least seven times and it is a classic favourite amongst faithful patrons.
Henry V was the King of England from 1386 – 1422, he was the son of Henry IV of Wales and considered a great strategist when it came to war. He actually went to battle in France and made more headway against the French than any other monarch in 200 years. Henry was notably credited by leading his men into battle despite the fact they were outnumbered, tired and malnourished, carried on to conquer the rain soaked French army by flanking them on either side.
Uniquely staged in the trenches of WWI, Henry V at the Shaw is clever in its ability to engage the audience. I was drawn in by the props on stage and the costumes that really helped to conjure up the dismal life of a battlefield soldier in 1916. The men who are waiting for active combat are performing the Shakespearian play, most likely as an inspiration and a way to keep their minds off the inevitable.
Since Shakespearian dialogue is not easy to understand, you are really dependant on the actors to deliver it in such a way that you can follow the story. A cast of Shaw’s best helped to bring this to that level. The audience seemed charmed by the fact that the actors slipped in and out of their Shakespearian characters to their WWI personas with humour and wit.
Leading man Gray Powell (The Hound of the Baskervilles) plays King Henry. Other Shaw favourites such as Graeme Sommerville, Ric Reid and Patrick Gallagan (also cast in this year’s The Hound of the Baskervilles) play a host of characters from the Shakespearean play as well as the fellow soldiers in the trench. Newcomers from last year Cameron Grant, Damien Atkins and Kristopher Brown also round out the cast of the first half and the group really gels.
As Henry V’s story continues in the trench, the war above continues. Before long there is gunfire in the distance and bombs being dropped, the soldiers must don their full uniform and go off to battle. A sombre air falls over the stage and one by one they all head out for their cause.
Scene two plays out in a hospital ward with the female cast dressed as nurses. The scene opens as the women bring in the soldiers, one by one as they lay injured in their beds, some more dire than others and one missing altogether. The remainder of the play then continues as the soldiers recover, bandages are changed, meals are served and demons surface.
The audience is truly captured by the horrors of war, regardless of the century. Lives are lost and battle scars are rendered to last for decades reminding the participants of their bravery. The realism of the wounds and the stage blood on the bandages can make one slightly squeamish, however this only goes to the credit of the props and makeup department for their authenticity.
The running time for Henry V is 3 hours including the intermission, which seems long, but goes by very quickly, at least for this audience member. Henry V is playing at the Jackie Maxwell Theatre til October 28th and is definitely worth the price of a ticket – you should go!!
By Jenifer Cass