This is living, breathing Shakespeare--everyone should experience it.
—Kelly Stifora, Reviewer
After 10 years away, Shakespeare in the Ruins
(SIR) returns to their titular birthplace this year with a streamlined, rousing and funny production of Henry V.
A follow-up to last year's Henry IV Parts 1& 2, this summer sequel requires no previous experience for enjoyment thanks to Michelle Boulet
's clever editing and staging, a small but enthusiastic cast and the setting.
The story of England's young warrior king, driven to campaign against France by pride and financial need, is transplanted to The Great War from its original 15th Century setting. This provides some fun opportunities for musical enhancement but has little impact on the story itself. What does is Boulet's trimming and reordering of the scenes from the original text, which bring the gallows humour of Shakespeare's treatise on war to the forefront and allows for a more measured and less cruel take on Henry than usual.
Henry V actors (l-r) Gordon Tanner, Karl Thordarson, Toby Hughes, Glen Thompson, Andrew Cecon (Allen Fraser)
Boulet gives Toby Hughes room to breathe as Henry and he takes advantage of it, using solitary moments to let the young king's doubt and fear show before he orders men to their deaths. This brooding Henry works when balanced by an ensemble playing multiple roles and really just having a lot of fun with it. The soldiers on both sides squabble and steal and prove to Henry that while honor brings glory, war on the frontlines is brutal and humour is necessary to survival.
Tying the whole thing together is Kevin Klassen
's hard-working Chorus, who scales walls, climbs trees and gamely serves as an emcee. The Chorus marries us to the play and the play to the setting so neatly that it seems as if he was written with SIR's promenade-style staging in mind. He ushers us around the ruins, expositing between scenes and apologizing for the limitations of theatre in representing such grand events as he guides us from England to France and then the battlefield.
Methinks he doth protest too much.
As Henry reacts to a random crow call as if it were an ill omen, as scared and tired soldiers scramble up the La Salle riverbank to go "once more unto the breach," and as I am directed to pick up my chair and bring it up the hill after them to see what happens next, I find myself thankful for SIR, and for their refusal to recognize those limitations. This is living, breathing Shakespeare--everyone should experience it.
Kelly Stifora is a writing instructor at Red River College and a graduate of the U of M's theatre program, where he directed and performed in many, many productions. He's apprentice directed at MTC, and starred in many, many more productions at Fringe Festivals past.
Kelly Stifora (CBC)