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Review Author: Jim Volz [mail]
Production: ?
Review date: 23 August, 2016


Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 is always a bit of a drudge lacking both the humor and blood and guts passion of Henry IV Part 1. Still, Canada’s Stratford Festival plunges into Graham Abbey’s adaptation titled Breath of Kings Redemption and offers a palatable Henry IV, Part 2 followed by a palpable Henry V.

In their “The Head that Wears a Crown” directors’ notes, Weyni Mengesha and Mitchell Cushman offer striking reasons for tackling the two Henrys at this particular time. “What compels someone to seek a throne (be it situated inside a castle, an Oval Office or a boardroom), and what should we demand from those who sit upon them?…Today, it is impossible to contemplate Richard, Henry and Hal without considering Trudeau and Obama, Trump, Clinton and Sanders, Putin and Merkel and Gaddafi and Mubarak and the Koch brothers…”

For the politically astute, the parallels are uncanny and Graham Abbey as King Henry IV, Araya Mengesha as Prince Hal and the rest of the Royal Family are rightfully wary of the rebels’ power in the guise of the Archbishop of York and Lady Percy (both played by an agile Carly Street), Young Mowbray (Mikaela Davies), Lord Hasting (Anusree Roy), the Earl of Northumberland (Nigel Shawn Williams) and Lady Northumberland (Irene Poole). The somber play certainly challenges the audience to consider the consequences of ambition, suspicion, revenge and deadly politics and though Falstaff’s bravado (admirably rendered by Geraint Wyn Davies) provides temporary relief, his eventual humiliation is made bearable only in contrast to the redemption and future promise of King Henry V.

As Prince Hal/Henry V, Araya Mengesha comes into his own as he ascends the throne and Breath of Kings transitions from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 into Shakespeare’s Henry V. Fortunately, both the pace and the action pick up in the second half of this adaptation as King Charles VI of France (Wayne Best), Queen Isabel (Anusree Roy), The Dauphin (Mikaela Davies), the Duke of Orleans (Shane Carty) and the rest of the French contingent offers enough bluster and bravado to resurrect audience interest and plunge the players into battle.

The Battle of Agincourt is creatively staged in the round (unusual for Stratford’s Tom Patterson Theatre) and the directing, design and fight teams’ ingenuity rivals that of the outnumbered English and the miraculous defeat of the overconfident French. Anahita Dehbonehie’s set design provides myriad battle formations as pieces of the stage are pried up from the floor and used as shelter or vantage points. Yannik Larivée’s costume design ranges from odd to ingenious to helpful as audience sort out the many doublings of actors, the women playing men’s roles and the back and forth appearances of the Royal Family, English Officers, and French nobility and soldiers. Kimberly Purtell’s intricate lighting design and Debashis Sinha’s dynamic work as a composer and sound designer are crucial to clarifying each army’s strategic plans, advances, engagements and triumphs. Fight Director John Stead and Movement Director Brad Cook deserve special mention for the complex, polished and provocative choreography and battle scenes.

Breath of Kings, Rebellion and Redemption
represent a wildly ambitious undertaking and commitment by Stratford Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and company. Although some scenes proved long and challenging, Breath of Kings is definitely more than the sum of its parts and the experience of these four Shakespeare plays over two productions and six hours is more than worth it for the bravest of the Bard’s followers and a rare, rich experience for both audience and company members alike. Both productions play through September 24.

Jim Volz, Editor, Shakespeare Theatre Association’s quarto
Member, American Theatre Critics Association
ISE Theatre Performance Chronicle

Permanent link to full entry 08:04:37 pm. Categories: Stage Performances  


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