Bard on the Beach
Henry V by William Shakespeare

Dates and Venue 1 8 July - 24 September 2010, Tues. to Sun. | Studio Stage, Under the Tents in Vanier Park

Director Meg Roe Set Design Pam Johnson Costume Designer Sheila White Lighting Designer Adrian Muir Sound Designer Owen Belton Fight Director Nicholas Harrison Choreography Rob Kitsos Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

The boards will be rattling at Bard on the Beach for the rest of the summer with an energetic and exhilarating production of King Henry V. Alessandro Juliani ably leads a cast of 11, possibly the same number of players as Shakespeare’s own company, who play more than 25 parts and range from Duncan Fraser and Bernard Cuffling with years of experience to Joseph Gustafson making his debut as the Boy.

Duncan Fraser gives a solid and economical performance as the Duke of Exeter, the King’s Commander in Chief and right-hand man. Kevin McNulty has the difficult task of opening the play with a singularly long-winded legal argument and succeeds in making the Archbishop of Canterbury so engrossed in historical arcana he becomes funnier with each obscure fact.

Director Meg Roe made sure to make the most of the humour in this rather grim play. The English lesson scene in Act I between the French princess Katherine (Amber Lewis) and her lady- in-waiting (Kayla Deorksen) is a delight and stays in the memory to enhance the charm and fun of the courtship scene between the Henry and Katherine at the end of the play. The royal language games are parallelled in the lower classes, again with just the right light touch.

Everyone with several parts differentiates them skilfully. There is no confusing the English nobles played by Andrew McNee, Luc Roderique and Charlie Gallant, with their other incarnations as French nobles and the Dauphin. Kayla Deorksen is a distressed Doll Tearsheet and an elegant French Alice. Andrew McNee imperceptibly transforms from a French Duke into the Welsh Captain Fluellen in which part he a gives a subtly varied portrait of a professional soldier with comedy, passion and pathos. Kevin K. James was a smooth Sir Thomas Grey and tough and energetic as Pistol. Colleen Wheeler, as in Falstaff, was the Chorus, charting the play’s calendar and venues directly and clearly, and Mistress Quickly.

This is a uniformly excellent cast. Bernard Cuffling (Bishop of Ely and Bardolph), Bob Frazer (Montjoy and Michael Williams) and Todd Thomson (Duke of Westmoreland and High Constable of France) all turned in solid characterizations. David Marr’s Nym was just the right companion for Bardolph and Pistol. The princess of France is a woman to be reckoned with as Amber Lewis plays her, both proud French princess and captivating young woman. And Joseph Gustafson was a standout as the Boy.

Henry V is a stock heroic figure of a king. Alessandro Juliani casts off the likeable but callow Prince Hal of Falstaff and fleshes out a Henry who can be merciful if possible, ruthless if necessary, religious (as a medieval king should be), self-examining, courageous and comradely. He makes him both a man and a king.

The costumes by Sheila White captured the rag-tag nature and desperate situation of the English army with patches and woollens and faded dyes. Owen Belton’s thrumming, sometimes ominous, sound design and Pam Johnson’s set also helped define the tone. For me the only unsuccessful aspect was the Rob Kitsos stylized choreography, not for the idea itself but its execution which I felt for the most part slowed the action without adding new layers of meaning.

Meg Roe has eschewed irony and direct pointers to modern times to let the audience draw its own conclusions. Overall, an exciting production and a very fine piece of work.

© 2010 Elizabeth Paterson