Review: Henry V

This weekend, we went to see Henry V at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. My boyfriend was extremely excited since he’s a tremendous Anglophile and he’d never seen it before. As some of you know, I’m very partial to Shakespeare and particularly like the histories. Richard II is my favorite Shakespeare play. (Spoilers below of plot and production)

However, I did not love this production of Henry V. It was good, but most things at Chicago Shakespeare are good. Very rarely do I see a production that was mediocre or bad. A large part of it was the lead. He did not command the stage like a King Henry should do. His voice was too soft. He seemed more like a Prince Hal than a King. Of course, the actor kept reminding me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and made me wonder how he would do as Prince Hal/King Henry.

The staging was magnificent. It was not extremely ornate as per usual. They have a wonderful three-store backdrop, which they lower on a slant at one point. It’s really impressive to watch them lower it. Then the ramp is used in the battle scenes. And there was some delightful stage fighting. At one point, the fighting slowed down to accentuated the actors’ actions. It was a bit like the Matrix in that fashion and I dug it.

With respect to Henry V, part of the problem is that I don’t like Prince Hal/Henry V. I’ve seen many productions of Henry IV Part 1 (not so much Part 2) and I haven’t loved it. And yes, I will admit that I don’t love Falstaff. And I never knew why. I love mischief makers and con man, but Falstaff always struck a wrong note with me. However, I finally figured it out after this production. Falstaff and Henry are kinda nasty people. The rollicking good fun that Falstaff and Hal have in Henry IV is not good fun; it’s at someone’s expense. The trick that they play on Falstaff involved mugging people. Even in Henry V, he plays a joke on a common solider and one of his commanders. Again, it involves someone boxing another person’s ears. I just don’t find that funny or charming. Maybe this is the difference the mentalities and humor between the 16th/ 17th century and the 21st century.

However, Falstaff’s death scene is still one of my favorites. No, not because I don’t like the character. Shakespeare handles it so delicately, having Mistress Quickly tell how Falstaff realizes that he is dying. It’s beautiful.

And yes, Richard II and Richard III aren’t depicted as good people either. Richard II takes land in a most dishonorable manner and Richard III is one of the great villains of Shakespeare. But I can like them a lot more. Or I enjoy watching them so much more. Maybe Henry V isn’t evil enough like Richard III for me. Or maybe he’s not as sincere as Richard II. I don’t know.


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