Before the production of “Henry V” starts, Richard Sheridan Willis, who plays the semi-omnipotent chorus throughout the play, sits listening to the sounds of the audience filing into their seats. He soon rises and addresses the audience, hands tied and condemned to death, stating that the events portrayed on the stage do not do the historical events justice.
“Henry V” is the final installment in Shakespeare’s historical cycle of plays. Telling the story of young King Henry as he deals with war, betrayal and love, in the Folger Theatre’s adaptation of “Henry V” is grand in its vision and spectacle.
Taking place at the cusp of war between England and France, young King Henry, played with bravado and affability by Zach Appelman, deals with the heavy burden of leading a country through a treacherous war and uniting men through diplomacy and rhetoric.
The play portrays both sides of the conflict as France’s king prepares for an invasion by the English. With the Dauphin and the Constable of France, played with sneering and haughty villainy by Andrew Schwartz and Pomme Koch, respectively, underestimating the wily ingenuity of the English, Henry and his forces have already infiltrated the borders of France.
The Folger Theatre’s adaptation is filled with grit and can get occasionally get down and dirty in both language and violence. Director Robert Richmond manages to capture all the puns in Shakespeare’s labyrinthine language that he had placed in his centuries old play.
The themes can seem prescient in the context of modern times with characters questioning whether the war is a fruitless endeavor; ringing up memories of the politics surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Battle scenes are choreographed excellently and large in their scale with Henry fighting through cutlass and bone in the plays peak. The set design is impressive in its utilitarian use as the scaffold lives and breathes with each passing scene; with ropes and giant logs moving about on stage with increasing violence that reflect the mounting shifts in power and clashing battle currents as the play moves forward to its tumultuous climax.
Surprisingly, “Henry V” is filled with just as much comedy as it is with bloody encounters. Scenes like Henry trying to woo Katherine of France while acknowledging the rift of language and customs that separate them is endearingly comedic. The swift repartee between the solders as they learn to deal with each other’s interest in women, drink and honor is satisfying when juxtaposed with the French’s apathy for the common man.
The music pounds with primal urgency and the costume design is detailed and opulent. The kings and queens of France all have the proper amount of detached air about them while dressed to the nines in regal attire.
Robert Richmond’s direction is deft and incredibly sharp at capturing the haze of emotions that clouds the play and has a very keen sense of the movement and placement of actors. “Henry V” is not to be missed.
The play runs until March 10.