Review: Henry V at Cape Fear Regional Theater

Erin Fossa

  • North Carolina Critic

What an incredible performance by some amazingly talented actors bringing Shakespeare to life in Fayetteville, NC! In a town that is still healing from the disastrous effects of hurricane Matthew, this gut-wrenching play was just what we needed for a momentary escape into spectacle and story. 

This was my first experience with CFRT and I must admit, I am sad I won’t have the opportunity to work with director Tom Quaintance as this was his last production as artistic director at CFRT. He completed his journey in style however, wearing many hats in this incredible production - producer, director, and performer. 

At the risk of sounding too cliche, there was (truly) something for everyone in this play. For myself, a lover of Shakespeare on page and stage, I was enthralled in the actor’s performances. Montgomery Sutton played a noble, likable, King Henry V. His interaction with the audience throughout the play made us all a part of the victory rather than simply spectators. With several rows of audience members actually seated on the stage, the action included everyone. Henry’s soliloquies were that much more poignant because they were delivered directly into our eyes as though we were a trusted friend to him. In scene one of act four, Henry’s line, “Our debts, our careful wives, our children, our sins lay on the king!” was delivered directly into the eyes of a little girl in the onstage audience, sending chills down my spine for sure! 

My husband, who is not a lover of Shakespeare, but a lover of theater nonetheless was impressed by the stage combat and enjoyed the battle scenes taking place both onstage and in the aisles around us. Mr. Quaintance chose to use the space very uniquely using every inch available - from the back wall of the theater to the emergency exits and everything in between. Levels were created with movable stairways, an upper level platform, and using the seats unoccupied by patrons on the stage. There was no shortage of spectacle for those who may have had trouble following the individual scenes, but still wanted to understand the plot. 

For the more sensitive theater-goer, the love story between Henry and Katharine was beautifully executed by Sutton and Tom Quaintance’s wife Wallis Quaintance. The strong, confident Henry becomes a bumbling buffoon as he attempts to win the heart of the woman he is arranged to marry despite not knowing a word of her language. The lovely Robyne Parrish aids in this endeavor as the hilarious french maid, Alice. Like much of the cast, Parrish pulled double-duty during this performance playing the not-always-likable male character Pistol as well as the comedic relief of Alice - a challenge she executed flawlessly. 
As seasoned theater-goers, we know it is no secret that in Shakespeare plays, women will play men and often men will play women as well. But each of the gender-blending actors did an amazing job of stripping themselves of all self-consciousness and helping us as the audience to suspend our disbelief. Actors playing multiple roles, opposite genders, and much younger characters were no distraction to the story. One performer in particular stood out to me in this respect. Rosemary Richards who played “boy”, a very important role in the play, did a remarkable job. Although a female senior in college herself, she played a young boy that joins the English on the battlefield and serves quietly beside them throughout the play. I had no trouble believing her in this role, and I thought she was adorable as the young “boy” whose death ultimately hits King Henry the hardest of all the war casualties. 

Perhaps my favorite production element of all was the simple, yet invaluable music provided (I believe) by just one man hidden on the upper level of the stage who may have been musical director and performer Tyler Pow. The booming drum and comical plunking bass guitar perfectly set the mood of each scene, a very important help to those who had difficulty understanding the language of the play. Without this element, I think much of the plays themes would have been lost. 

Overall, I enjoyed how King Henry and the English were painted in such a positive, noble light and the overconfidence of the French was highlighted as well. In some ways, I wish these distinctions between them would have been emphasized even more. Because although I was able to pick up on it from reading the play, I’m not sure the average spectator did. The English are truly the underdog in this story, yet their confidence and strength did not read that way onstage. Instead, the sides felt almost equally matched. But within the language were the clues that this wasn’t so. I longed for those clues to be a bit more prominent for the rest of the audience’s sake. It would have made the English victory a bit more climactic. However, there was no shortage of joy in their victory at the end of act four. 

Thank you Cape Fear Regional Theater for reigniting the flame inside me for the lesser known works of Shakespeare and hopefully exposing a whole new generation to them as well!  

Photography by Raul Rubiera Jr