Chicago Shakespeare Theater and William Shakespeare’s Henry V have a long history together. CST is wrapping up its 2013-14 season with its first staging of Henry V in its Courtyard Theater. The relationship between the two reaches back to 1986, though, when CST introduced itself to the city with a production of Henry V on the rooftop of Lincoln Park’s Red Lion Pub.
This play caps one of Shakespeare’s historical tetralogies, beginning with Richard II and continuing through both parts of Henry IV to culminate with Henry V. It is based on real events; the ascension of Henry V to the British throne in 1413, his declaration of war with France, and the Battle of Agincourt, in which the English army vanquished the French in spite of being sorely outnumbered.
Directed by British director Christopher Luscombe (in his Chicago debut), Henry V brings to the forefront questions about the necessity for and validity of war by highlighting the very real consequences of war.
This is definitely a testosterone-fueled play; there are only three female characters, appearing in a total of three scenes.
Harry Judge masterfully commands the lead role of the newly crowned King of England. This role demands a very diverse range of emotions, and Judge expertly delivers on all of them. He is as compelling to watch when displaying his leadership role as when deep in self-introspection or showing his gentler side with friends and loved ones.
As with many of Shakespeare’s dramatic stories, some comedic relief is provided, and in this play, that relief is provided by Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph (Greg Vinkler, Larry Neumann, Jr., and Bret Tuomi). This trio does an admirable job of providing laughs in the midst of an intense environment without overpowering the play’s message.
Fight Choreographer Matt Hawkins delivers an interesting take on the battle with a very creative and artistic fight scene.
There is minimal scenery, but Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet has used it so judiciously and effectively that one forgets how little there is. The focus throughout this play is on the characters, and the scenery successfully underscores and enhances that focus.
CST’s Henry V is an intense, emotional, and compelling experience that underscores the capacity of language for both inspiration and introspection.
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