William Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” directed by Grayson Owen, is presently playing on the Kestrel Stage at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory in the Roland Park area of Baltimore until March 8, 2020.
The king (Grace Brockway) in “Henry V” is an older Prince Hal the focus of “Henry IV, P. 1 & 2.” He has now succeeded to the throne after the death of his father, Henry IV. Gone is his friend, the much-loved character, Sir John Falstaff. In this play, we hear of Falstaff’s death. “Henry V” is a play about war. It starts with Henry deciding he should also be King of France, and we follow him across the English Channel to the attack of a French port, through the bloody siege of that port, Harfleur as well as the miraculous English victory of Agincourt and finally after years of war, Henry’s adoption by the French King (Cheryl J. Campo) with some bequeathing of some French provinces and bounty. We also witness his wooing of the French princess. There have been four movies made either under the title of “Henry V” or used as a basis for other dramas due to its views on warfare.
Of course, this is Shakespeare, so expect some humorous characters to lighten the story. Also, there are those memorable lines, “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…” and “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” It is also a questioning look at war. Despite his victories, was the war worth the loss of lives and largess or is war heroic are questions left to be answered by the viewer. Shakespeare also uses a Chorus (Marcela Mannix) to move the plot along in this play, partially due to the fact that theatre in his day used little scenery. In the end, the Chorus reminds the audience that Henry V’s heirs “lost France and made England bleed.”
The play is thought to be written in 1599. However, it should be read or seen with the two Henry IV’s as a collection. Prince Hal’s character, a bit of a rascal and ladies’ man in the first two, is now hinted at in newly crowned king. Has the King just perfected speaking easily and inspirationally to the common soldiers due to his days at Boar’s Tavern with his friend, Falstaff or does he really feel empathy for his men? Is he wooing of Katherine just a line he used during days of debauchery or heartfelt? Owen’s direction seems to lean to the latter in both cases. The Bard, however, has left us room for our own conclusions. Owen clearly has underscored the horrors of war. The play draws some visual and verbal pictures of death and suffering that war can cause both for the winner and the loser.
BSF uses cross-gender casting. They also have actors playing multiple parts in this production with the exception of Henry. They use costuming to let us know when the actor is portraying a different character. This is truly an ensemble production.
Brockway does a notable job as the King. She conveys the complexity of the character from one who can inspire his troops with his valor to one who has no problem beheading members of his court who have dared to oppose him. Brockway’s portrayal of the King still shows glimmers of Prince Hal when he pulls a cruel prank on one of his brave officers, Fluellen (Matthew Crawford) right after the victory at Agincourt. At the end as the playwright, actor and director have succeeded in permitting the viewers not to be quite certain how they feel about the royal.
Owen clearly has underscored the horrors of war. The play draws some visual and verbal pictures of death and suffering that war can cause both for the winner and the loser.
Other standouts were Jamil Johnson as Pistol, Abigail Funk as Bardolph and Jane Jongeward as Nym, the three “stooges” of the play and a source of much of the humor. In typical Shakespearean fashion, they appear before and after darker scenes. Johnson’s Pistol is truly the clown and the actor has us laughing at his shenanigans. All three play multiple roles Johnson – Grey and Governor, Jongeward – Cambridge, Bates and Le Fer, and Funk – Scroop, Williams and Montjoy. However, it is their comic roles where they truly show their theatrical talents.
Mannix’s Chorus not only describes the scenes and gives us a prelude and an epilogue, but she does it while speaking for the playwright, artfully conveying Shakespeare’s own mixed feelings about the scourge of war.
Campo. who plays Canterbury, Jamy, Gloucester and the King of France, is always a pleasure to watch. Her opening speech as Canterbury, where the Archbishop convinces Henry he as a right to the throne of France, is brilliant, drawing us into the intrigue of the plot.
Valerie Holt does well as the innkeeper, Mistress Quickly, worried about the dying Falstaff and verbally dueling with her longtime customers, Pistol, Nym and Bardolph. She also deftly plays the Dauphin and the Ambassador.
Crawford’s Fluellen is not just noble but also adds to some of the lightness of this war drama. Crawford also plays Orleans and Burgundy.
Rachel Manu as Ely, Macmorris and Constable, Adam Henricksen as Gower, Westmoreland and Bourbon and Greta Boeringer as Exeter and Erpingham also give fine performances, in perhaps, less principal roles.
There are two Greenspring Performance Interns, Kate Butler (Boy/Alice) and Chloe Otterson (Bedford, Grandpre and Rambures). Butler’s role as Boy is an important one as he is a sympathetic character. He speaks French and is valiant while others are cowards or more interested in plunder than victory. Butler shows great promise in this small but pivotal role.
Heather Johnston’s costume design is integral in this production because the cast almost all have multiple roles. She must have costumes that tell us right away that the actor has changed character, and the costumes must allow for quick wardrobe changes. She also must make us believe the women in the cast are men. Johnston succeeds royally.
A BSF production includes music before the show and at intermission. The choices in this show underscore the anti-war theme. Kristen Cooley is the Music Director.
In a Shakespearean play about war, you must have convincing fight scenes. This happens under the fight direction of Tegan Williams.
There is another wonderful aspect of BSF shows, the beautiful Elizabethan stage. It allows the actors great mobility.
The Baltimore Shakespeare’s production of “Henry V” helps make this not often produced history play have great meaning to our present time. We realize some subject matter spans the history of mankind.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.
Shakespeare’s “Henry V” is playing weekends until March 8, 2020, at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at the newly renovated Kestrel Hall, located inside St. Mary’s Community Center, a historic former church at 3900 Roland Avenue, Baltimore MD 21211. For information about upcoming shows and the BSF go to their website. To purchase tickets online. BSF’s next production, “King Lear” in the original pronunciation under the direction of Tom Delise, opens April 3, 2020, and runs until April 26, 2020.
Note: Due to some violent scenes this production is not recommended for very young children. However, adolescents and teens who enjoy theatre will appreciate the play.