Shakespeare never gave more encouragement to low-budget theater companies than in “Henry V.”
The character of Chorus begs pardon for the stage’s limitations before the action begins: “Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? ... Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth, For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.”
The spirit matters most of all: Convey that, and the story is as real as it can ever be. Shakespeare Carolina does so vividly at Duke Energy Theater in a production anchored by Ted Patterson’s eloquent monarch.
The Henry that directors reveal depends on the purpose of the production. Laurence Olivier’s version, a patriotic film released during World War II, gave us a stalwart king with no moral qualms. Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 movie, released during the decline of Thatcherite England, was bitterly cynical: He used Henry’s speech at the siege of Harfleur, where he promises the French they will see “your naked infants spitted upon pikes,” and the hanging of Henry’s pal Bardolph with the king’s consent.
Patterson and director Tony Wright give us a still-callow king who has barely matured into his responsibilities. He retains the hot temper he showed as the ill-behaved youth who was thought unfit for the throne, and whom the French mock (to their peril) when he lays claim to their lands.
Patterson rouses the troops in the great battle speeches and woos French princess Katherine (Caryn Crye) with the self-proclaimed bluntness of the soldier. Only one great scene eludes him, the midnight monologue in which he contemplates the hollowness of pomp. There’s nothing reflective or wistful about it, and Henry’s anger seems out of place there.
Wright has lit his own set sparingly, directing our attention where it needs to be, and makes good use of many doors and one long staircase leading to the balcony. We get a surprisingly satisfying sense of battles fought – Wright also did the fight choreography – and the costumes have more detail than we might expect.
Sixteen actors take multiple roles, except for Patterson, Oyebole Ande (a comically whimpering Pistol) and Charles Holmes (a forceful Duke of Exeter). They populate the stage thoroughly: Crye’s as appealing as a savvy young servant as she is playing the hesitant princess, while Russell Rowe makes a glib Archbishop of Canterbury and an endearing Fluellen. Katie Bearden delivers Chorus’ speeches with articulate intimacy, though she needs to project more.
The bits of comedy occasionally fall short of the mark. (To be fair, Thursday’s audience didn’t seem to know where funny parts were.) But “Henry V” is fundamentally a serious play getting a serious production, and on that score it consistently succeeds.
Shakespeare Carolina does the Bard’s history play about the 15th-century monarch who reclaimed France for the English.
WHEN: Through April 11 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
WHERE: Duke Energy Theater, Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.
TICKETS: $20 ($10 seniors/students). On Wednesday, pay what you can.
RUNNING TIME: 165 minutes.