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STRATFORD’S BREATH OF KINGS RALLIES FORCES THROUGH REDEMPTION

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

STRATFORD’S BREATH OF KINGS
RALLIES FORCES THROUGH REDEMPTION

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  

Original Practices Henry IV, Part II Hailed as Valiant First Effort for Colorado Shakespeare

Review Author: Jim Volz [mail]
Production: Henry IV, Part II (2014, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, USA)
Review date: 17 August, 2014

As part of an experiment in working with original practices, the 57th season of Colorado Shakespeare Festival included a Henry IV, Part II conclusion to the company’s fully staged Henry IV, Part I for three Sunday performances. This unique CSF staging included only five days of rehearsal, a prompter, many key actors with just a “cue script” in hand, universal lighting, a hodge-podge of modern dress and period costumes, and a generally collective direction of the piece by the acting company.

Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr welcomed audiences and explained a bit about original Elizabethan theatre staging practices, how original practices have been interpreted by various companies in recent years, and the adventure that Colorado Shakespeare embarked on for this production.

Fortunately, for many company members, the production most likely benefitted significantly from the casting, character development, rehearsal period and ensemble work that was put into Henry IV, Part I, and Michael Winters once again led the way on stage as an amiable, boastful, poignantly pathetic Sir John Falstaff. The story of King Henry IV’s maladies and death, the odd misunderstanding with his son, Hal, Prince John’s questionable integrity and Falstaff’s eventual humiliation is sobering drama under the best of circumstances and the CSF company manages to make sense of the piece—but it was a long process. A number of actors seemed to struggle (borrowing from Peter Quince) with “cues and all.” The result was a much longer than the promised fast and light pacing keeping to “the two hours’ traffic of our stage.”

Still, kudos to a fine company of actors and congratulations to an artistic and production team for risking public performances under experimental conditions. Although the results of the “final product” were mixed, many actors rose to the challenge and the production was no doubt an interesting artistic experiment for the company and an educational journey for the audience.

Jim Volz, Editor, Shakespeare Theatre Association’s quarto
Professor, Theatre, California State University, Fullerton

[Dr. Jim Volz is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, former CEO/Managing Director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and the author of seven books, including HOW TO RUN A THEATRE (Methuen Drama/2011), WORKING IN AMERICAN THEATRE (Methuen Drama/2011), and SHAKESPEARE NEVER SLEPT HERE. He has produced over 100 professional productions, consulted for over 100 theatres and professional arts groups, and written over 100 articles for publication in newspapers, magazines, books and journals. He may be reached at jvolz@fullerton.edu]

Permanent link to full entry 01:08:14 pm. Categories: Stage Performances  

 
 

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