Charm­ing al­fresco Henry V miss­ing the hor­ror of war

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ali­son Mayes

SHAKE­SPEARE in the Ru­ins couldn’t have asked for a more per­fect evening than it got Thurs­day for its long-awaited re­turn to its open-air home at the Trap­pist Monastery ru­ins in St. Nor­bert.

Af­ter nine sum­mers stag­ing the Bard else­where, the troupe re­claimed its orig­i­nal pic­turesque set­ting on a night with no wind, no mos­qui­toes, lush greenery and twit­ter­ing birds. The warm sun­shine grad­u­ally slipped away and the com­pany of­fered ev­ery­one blan­kets for warmth af­ter in­ter­mis­sion. It was lovely.

This year’s pro­duc­tion is the warthemed, male-dom­i­nated Henry V, up­dated by di­rec­tor Michelle Boulet from me­dieval times to the First World War. What’s most sur­pris­ing is it’s a show full of charm and chuck­les.

Boulet more than suc­ceeds in find­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble bit of hu­mour and keep­ing us en­ter­tained. What’s miss­ing are emo­tional depth and a com­pelling, lay­ered por­trait of a young war­rior-king’s evo­lu­tion into a tow­er­ing leader.

Nine ac­tors por­tray 19 English and French char­ac­ters. Kevin Klassen brings mar­vel­lous en­ergy to the Cho­rus (nar­ra­tor), clev­erly con­ceived as a brash war cor­re­spon­dent.

As the tale opens, King Henry V (Toby Hughes) re­ceives a taunt­ing gift Shake­speare in the Ru­ins To June 23 Tick­ets $12 to $30 at PTE box of­fice, 942-5483

½ out of five from the French Dauphin: ten­nis balls to mock his idle, shal­low youth (to­day’s neon-bright balls are a poor choice for the pe­riod). With po­lit­i­cal pres­sure build­ing, Henry de­clares war.

The story then traces the in­va­sion, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the smug, over-con­fi­dent French and the greatly out­num­bered English. (The au­di­ence picks up its sup­plied chairs and fol­lows the ac­tion to dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in “France” and “Eng­land,” in­side the brick-and-stone ru­ins and on the grounds.)

Karl Thor­dar­son as the haughty Duke of Bur­gundy and Gord Tan­ner as the play­boy-like French king are stand­outs. Ariel Levine cap­tures the char­ac­ter of the sour, im­ma­ture Dauphin, but needs to project more, vo­cally and phys­i­cally.

Henry’s ne’er-do-well drink­ing bud­dies from his prince days, Bar­dolf (Tan­ner), Pis­tol (An­drew Ce­con) and Nym (Glen Thompson), be­come funny foot sol­diers, along with a plucky teenage boy (the won­der­fully wide-eyed Na­dine Pinette).

De­signer Brian Per­chaluk does a fine job of evok­ing the Great War with touches such as barbed wire, sand­bags, gas masks, a field tele­phone, binoc­u­lars, a snare drum and sound ef­fects of bat­tle.

Mon­tjoy (Ce­con), the French her­ald, some­times rides in on a vin­tage bi­cy­cle. Boulet and Sarah Con­stible have com­posed splen­did songs — some witty, some poignant — which the cast sings won­der­fully.

One stretch of the show, acted on and near a stair­way up the La Salle river­bank, is too dis­tant from the au­di­ence. Though the ac­tors are au­di­ble, in­ti­macy is lost. The cap­ti­vat­ing Pinette ap­pears here as Kather­ine, the French princess, who gets an adorable English les­son from her lady-in­wait­ing (Con­stible). Ku­dos to Boulet for cast­ing ac­tors who can de­liver the un-trans­lated French per­fectly, though it’s a tad frus­trat­ing for non-bilin­gual pa­trons.

There is, then, much to ap­pre­ci­ate about this Henry V. But the pace and tone are so breezy that the hor­ror and ter­ror of war don’t get the weight they de­serve. Boulet has taken a bay­o­net to the script — the run­ning time is two hours, in­clud­ing in­ter­mis­sion — to the ex­tent that too much of Henry’s in­ner strug­gle to be a just, coura­geous king has been hacked out.

Most of his so­lil­o­quy the night be­fore the Bat­tle of Agin­court, in which he con­trasts the heavy bur­den of be­ing a monarch with an or­di­nary life, is miss­ing.

As Henry, Hughes gives a low­in­ten­sity per­for­mance that stays in a nar­row range, never at­tain­ing the fierce, fiery, mag­nif­i­cent pas­sion the role de­mands.

His threat to rape and slaugh­ter the civil­ians of Harfleur and his sup­posed anger on dis­cov­er­ing the fate of the teenage boy are un­con­vinc­ing. When he’s in dis­guise be­fore the Bat­tle of Agin­court, Hughes doesn’t al­ter his voice. His cloak is to­tally im­plau­si­ble as a dis­guise, greatly weak­en­ing this fa­mous scene.

One of the most in­spir­ing speeches in the Shake­speare canon, Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day call to arms (“We few, we happy few, we band of broth­ers”) ought to be so stir­ring that it makes your heart burst out of your chest. Awk­wardly staged, with Henry barely look­ing at his men, it’s a fiz­zled fire­cracker.

Hughes fares bet­ter in the final scene that sees him awk­wardly woo­ing Kather­ine. That lends a clos­ing note of de­light to a pro­duc­tion that makes for an en­joy­able out­ing, if not a mov­ing por­trait of a “star of Eng­land.”

ALLEN FRASER PHOTO

Karl Thor­dar­son, left, and Toby Hughes.

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