Henry V

by Rebecca Thomas

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday February 24, 2010

Michael Hayden as King Henry V with the cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by David Muse.
Michael Hayden as King Henry V with the cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by David Muse.  (Source:Photo by Scott Suchman.)

Anyone who saw the Shakespeare Theater Company's production of Richard II might have had their doubts about Michael Hayden's acting abilities. His penchant for the theatrical simply was not a good fit for the complex and subtle role of that monarch. Luckily, the good people of STC saw fit to also cast him in another role: as the leading man in their production of Henry V playing now through April 10. Where Hayden's impassioned speechifying and exaggerated emotional response was out of place in Richard, it couldn't have been a better fit for Henry. Between Hayden's acting skills and David Muse's brilliant direction, this production was bound to be a hit.

There were so many things about Richard II that were done not just well but superbly. For example, the costume choices by Designer Elizabeth Hope Clancy were incredibly well thought out. At first glance, the cheap-looking material on the English characters may have left a sour taste in your mouth, but when they were compared with the luxurious atire of the French men this material choice suddenly seemed not only plausible but inspired. By varying the materials, Clancy set an underlying tone for the performance that hinted at one of the play's overall themes-the English were focused on function while the French were preoccupied with form. Clancy's visual message to the audience was thus abundantly clear and brilliantly conveyed.

Also worth mentioning were certain set elements by Set Designer Lee Savage. It itself was brilliant in its simplicity, employing the same background for the entire play: a towering wall of aged brick and two enormous wooden doors. This apt yet innocuous background allowed the audience to focus on the play and not be interrupted by scene changes. Even more intriguing, however, were savage's prop choices-the best of which were hidden among the rafters. At various points during the play, a number of dazzling sets of armor, an enormous map and a series of helmets descended from on high to act as symbolic augmenters of a particular trope or scene. The helmets hanging overhead at various heights to symbolize the sheer range of the fallen soldiers towards the end of the production was especially moving.

Something must also be said about Sound Designer Martin Desjardins wizard-like skill with the play's audio arts. Shakespeare realized that acting out the Battle of Agincourt would have been both an impossible endeavor to capture realistically on stage and likely something that would be seen as laughable by any present historians. He instead decided to use a series of intermittent scenes (removed from the battlefield) to give the audience a general idea of what was going on. Desjardin, however, chose to employ a different approach in between these scenes to give the audience a fuller picture. During the battle, the theater lights were shut off and only the sounds of battle could be heard-allowing the audience members to picture the scene in their own minds. This single-handedly brilliant move made the production go from "Good" to "Great!" and certainly left the audience feeling like they were in the middle of the action.

In the end, however, it was the talent that was responsible for making this show so memorable. Leading man Michael Hayden was in every aspect an English monarch incarnate. His character development was something of a marvel between his uncertain air in the beginning-relying primarily on the advice of his advisors - to his transformation into a bold and blood-thirsty soldier and finally into an enlightened monarch who recognized his own weaknesses but maintained an inner strength. Hayden's passionate performance was exactly what this production needed. He had a visible drive that made him capable of anything; not the least of which was leaping down a 20+ foot wall with only a rope and his gloved hands (no rappelling equipment in site) - an impressive feat for anyone, let alone a classical actor. Most compelling though were Hayden's voice and manner. When he delivered the famous "band of brothers" speech, there was a visible stir in the audience-you could almost hear the hearts of those sitting around you pick up the pace. All in all, Hayden proved to be an acting virtuoso in this part, a veritable king of the castle.

Additionally, there are a few others who must be mentioned. Rachel Holmes played both a delightful and amusing Princess Katherine of France. Speaking primarily French throughout the production, she still had no problem getting her message across between her facial expressions and gesticulations. Moreover, the scene in which she was attempting to learn the English words for various parts of the human anatomy was one of the most entertaining in the entire production. Darren Matthias, who played Pistol in this show was the primary source of comic relief throughout and played his part commendably well. Not to be outdone by his dramatic counterparts however, he still managed to, in one scene, thoroughly tug at the audience' heart strings, proving that he can do more than just make people laugh. Finally, Tom Story must be given his due for playing the part of the overly confident Dauphin. Story plays the villain particularly well between his generally condescending manner and his laughable affection for his horse above any human being. To put it simply, he makes being bad look rather good.

Four out of five stars for a production that showed off leading man Michael Hayden's acting prowess and kept the audience members-whether laughing airily or holding their collective breath in anticipation-on the edge of their seats throughout.

Henry V plays through April 10, 2010 @ Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. For more information, visit the //www.shakespearetheatre.org/:Shakespeare Theater Company's website.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer and photographer in the Orlando area who has worked as an independent contractor for several media outlets over the years, including but not limited to: U.S. News & World Report, The World Picture Network (WpN) and Aurora Photos. She has a BA from Cornell University in Anthropology and History. She enjoys fluffy dogs, Starbucks seasonal coffee blends, and promoting the advancement of LGBT and other causes through her writing and reviews.