With such a fine result with Breath of Kings (Rebellion)—cross-reference below, expectations were high that Breath of Kings (Redemption) would maintain the quality, pacing and nuanced staging of the first two plays in the “Henriad.”
Alas, it was not to be.
With virtually the same artistic trust and players involved, the basic ingredients bode well but the earlier magic (notably the subtle symbolism and strong performances) gradually had the breath taken out of their theatrical sails following an inventive tableau/summary which opened Henry IV Part 2.
King Henry IV’s troubles (largely self-inflicted) continue unabated and civil wars must be fought, yet the promised peace (and consequent summary executions for treason) seems far too easy given the stakes; Prince Hal continues his wild ways with Sir John Falstaff and company, yet still another “disguise ourselves to learn what Falstaff really thinks of us” device goes to the narrative well once too often—especially, and oh so ironically, in such close proximity to Part 1. The climactic scene as King Henry IV lies apparently “in heaven,” prompting Prince Hal to try on the crown, surprisingly lacked vital understatement from Graham Abbey as the elder (his declamations would have woken the dead even as he was preparing to join their number) while Araya Mengesha couldn’t quite find the tone to convincingly explain away his actions.
One bright spot was the well-crafted scene between Justice Shallow (Tom Rooney) and Justice Silence (Stephen Russell)—much more of comic relief than the majority of the Eastcheap sequences which lost their lustre compared with the first go around.
As to Henry V (admittedly being spoiled thanks to Sir Laurence Olivier—cross-reference below), the combination of gender-blind casting and twin role “stripping” (Mikaela Davies doing double duty as the Dauphin and his sister Katherine) became more of a distraction than “well why shouldn’t she play he?”
John Stead’s creation of the Agincourt battle had a decidedly circus quality, negating the horrendous actual carnage thanks to “God’s arm” saving the English bacon.
The unifying romance (King Henry V and Katherine: There, no harm done if our houses be joined) being staged on left-over war ramparts seemed more like a pair of politicians on their soap boxes than two lovers-to-be whose union might keep the peace for years to come.
At the root of these problems is both Shakespeare’s not-as-even original works, Abbey’s time-constrained adaptations and the somewhat less diligent realization of the resultant text by directors Mitchell Cushman and Weyni Mengesha.
However, don’t get me wrong: there is still much to admire but we were so enamoured with the first set that our own greed was craving a second helping of such splendid art. JWR