“As you watch the production today your own experiences are of course present and you, too, can participate in the conversation.”
- Kevin Bennett, co-director, Henry V
So be it.
“So did you enjoy the production? Would you recommend it?”
“Enjoy isn’t quite the word I would choose—more like endured it.”
“Do tell. What was the problem?”
“Well no problem really, it is just the growing trend, it seems, of trying to make classic plays extra-relevant through setting (this one’s literally in the trenches of World War I) and point of view (here we get some of Shakespeare’s, the actors’ the audience and probably the ushers…).
“In terms of the acting on its own, the Shaw troop is at its customary high level (doing everything that’s asked of them and more—they define flexibility). Except for Gray Powell in the title role (a powerful performance with the exception of wooing Katherine whilst hopping to and fro on a crutch), the other 10 all play multiple characters. This could have been much more confusing than it might have been, but that was mitigated by having the, er, combatants, reading the actual play from time to time and announcing various scene changes and set ups. Gender bending and colour-blind casting (the debate still rages about Black and Indigenous Canadians being “unwelcome” at first, but when finally allowed “in”, largely given menial jobs such as digging the trenches not fighting from them). Nonetheless, Cameron Grant was a model of well-crafted characterization, tossing off, for example, his scarf scene with aplomb; Natasha Mumba was always convincing whether playing Katherine, Dauphin, Bates, Bedford or Herald.”
“Yes, I remember those same issues of racism being brought up last week in Oh What a Lovely War. It’s amazing what some people had to put up with! Anything else remarkable from the show?”
“Well to get the audience into the ‘conversation’, forms were provided at intermission for those who wished to share a memory or thought. Ric Reid (who also had a fine outing as Grey and the French King), dutifully read those out as the hospital beds were rolled in after the break.”
“Oh I see. I suppose some of those memories were of death and destruction, reinforcing the plight of the wounded?”
“Go the head of the class.”
“So should I take in a performance? It’s not a Shakespeare play that I have yet seen.”
“Well there’s the rub. Veterans of the films (Olivier’s still stands out—you know you can read the review elsewhere) and Stratford (either), might find Bennett’s and Tim Carroll’s vision an interesting curiosity. But for newcomers, I would recommend a more traditional version to give the Bard a chance to make his points before venturing into a present-day look whose aim is to meld the original text with a horrific war that is miles away from Agincourt. Or what’s a centenary for?” JWR