Many questions floated around my head as I walked into Shakespeare and Company’s Bernstein Theatre for the opening night performance of William Shakespeare’s Henry V (one of his more popular history plays). What direction is the play going to go? Will it be a period piece or more modern? Will it be long? And probably the question that was on almost everyone’s mind: will I understand it? I perused the program looking for answers and saw that the show only had eight actors: four men and four women. I was instantly curious as to how that was going to be pulled off and as the lights dimmed I hoped for the best.
If you are unfamiliar with Henry V, it is the story of a prince turned king and his journey to repair his country, England, while also battling France. This intimate production puts an emphasis on the incredible language Shakespeare penned. From the moment the lights go up and the chorus begins the famous prologue: “O! for a Muse of fire…” the audience is drawn in and encouraged to use their imaginations throughout the coming journey.
This production was masterfully and creatively directed by Jenna Ware. I can’t recall the last time I saw a ‘bare Bard’ production that was so excellently executed. A ‘bare Bard’ production is one that mimics how companies in Shakespeare’s day would have performed it: with minimal costumes and prop pieces in a bare space. This allows for the production to be performed in any space available because the actors bring everything with them. The troupe certainly worked hard to create a play that flowed so easily from one scene to the next. The incredible cast includes Caroline Calkins, Jonathan Croy, Kelly Galvin, Jennie M. Jadow, Tom Jaegar, David Joseph, Sarah Jeanette Taylor and Ryan Winkles. All, but Ryan Winkles who played Henry, portrayed multiple characters each with their own mannerisms and way of speaking. By using various costumes pieces they would transform into different characters for each scene. Altogether, they were wonderful, however one stood out a little extra: David Joseph. This talented actor brought life, laughter and charisma to his characters and though each was different all were intriguing. He was certainly an audience favorite.
Wrapping up in two hours plus the 15 minute intermission, this play was undoubtedly one of the best I have seen of late. Yet, I was left wondering why the swords, though sometimes drawn, were never used. The battle scene was done in a slow motion mime-like way with each character fighting their invisible opponent. It was really interesting to watch, but I felt let down at the same time because I had been looking forward to some kind of sword play.
If you find yourself in the Berkshires this summer I recommend heading over to Shakespeare and Company to enjoy the beauty of language mixed with a little bit of history and certainly some laughs. Henry V plays through August 23rd, 2015. Tickets and more information on the play (which I highly recommend reading before attending) can be found at www.shakespeare.org
For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/