Such might have been the response of famous "Henry V" stars Sir
This production, directed by
The issue at the center of the play is the nature of war and patriotism, and how monarchs (or dictators, or presidents) stoke and manipulate it. Of all the eloquent English kings in Shakespeare, few are more gifted in the rhetoric of war than Henry V, who by the time the play opens has set aside his playboy past and taken up the apparently more adult responsibility of war-making. In his program note, Elkin notes the instruction of Henry's father, the late Henry IV, to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels."
On that advice, Henry asks an adviser to invent a flimsy pretext for war with
Moltane, a likable though too infrequently commanding stage presence, delivers those earth-rattling speeches with all the requisite volume and bluster they seem to demand. But there's something rote about much of his performance that gives it the quality of an inspired declamation of poetry rather than a deeply felt outpouring of patriotic bluster. While this may have been a deliberate choice meant to highlight the constructed or rehearsed nature of Henry's pep talks and therefore of patriotism itself, it often lacks the essential emotional punch.
However, like the rest of the production, Moltane's performance is almost guaranteed to gain nuance and power as the run continues. And there are plenty of highlights, notably
Many of the other comic scenes, owing more to the obscurity of their content than their execution, fall flat.
Shakespeare's omniscient narrator, who periodically implores audiences to use their imaginations to fill out the gaps in the production, appears in the form of a bleach-blond
This play presents a number of problems, especially for American audiences unfamiliar with the history of the English monarchy and its misadventures. The first is its function as one episode in a much larger drama. Watching "Henry V" on its own is a bit like tuning into "Game of Thrones" in the middle of its third season -- rewarding for its individual performances and characters but potentially confusing. Elkin's approach, which cuts the play down to three hours including intermission, sidesteps some of those problems.
The play also is quite bipolar when it comes to its position on war. On the one hand, when Henry's emissary Exeter delivers his demands to the French king, he does so with a warning meant to bring the enemy face-to-face with the consequences of war.
Exeter implores the French king to give up the crown and to "take mercy on the poor souls for whom this hungry war opens his vasty jaws" and to think of "the widows' tears, the orphans' cries, the dead men's blood, the pining maidens groans."
On the other, it seems to glory in the lofty language of war and its tendency to rend the innocent limb from limb, the former in Henry V's famous St. Crispin's Day speech and the latter in his terrifying warning to the governor of a French town.
Other productions of this tricky play have succeeded by tending to highlight one pole or the other. Despite some redeeming moments, this one gets lost in the middle.
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