New Theatre's Henry V: Gender-Bending Cast Stretched Too Thin

In the second half of New Theatre's Henry V, we found ourselves staring at Sipiwe Moyo, the actress who played the king, her expressive and round, dewey-skinned face framed by a hood of fluid metal. Wonder if it's expensive to buy chainmail headdresses, we thought. They sure are cool. Bet they have them on Amazon.

Meanwhile, the English King's usurpation of the French throne was under way on stage, and we had missed another minute of dialogue as a result of our sudden enthusiasm for medieval accessories.

This was an improvement over the first half of the play, where the elder gentleman to our left fell into

bouts of head-bobbing slumber... and we unwittingly joined him.

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As one might expect, New Theatre put an alternative spin on its production of Henry V. Not only did they

blend time period-appropriate costuming with jeans and camouflage

cargo pants, they cast Moyo, a black woman, as Henry V. The

other cast members also crossed gender lines as they jumped from character to


The nine cast members played a total of 32 parts throughout

the play (and seven members played 30 roles, since two of the actors

played only one part). And although we understand that it's probably due

in part to the small theater's having limited resources, we think this

was a major source of confusion, and consequently, attention drift for

the audience.

Actors Robert Alter, Sipiwe Moyo, and Scott Douglas Wilson in Henry V
Actors Robert Alter, Sipiwe Moyo, and Scott Douglas Wilson in Henry V
New Theatre

And even in a crowd of theater buffs, it seems unlikely that more than a handful would be so

familiar with the 500-year-old play that they could follow the

intricacies of its plot, regardless of the casts' tripling-,

quadrupling- and quintupling-up on characters.

The lovely antiquated prose delivered with proper

British, cockney, or Scottish accents requires considerable

attention to decipher. Add to that the constant rotation of players, and

the whole thing just becomes too demanding to be entertaining.


said, there were still many redeeming elements within the play.

Christina Groom, for example, is the diminutive actress who played

Katherine (the king of France's daughter), Nym (a corporal), the Earl of

Cambridge, the Dauphin, and an English soldier, showing remarkable

versatility throughout.

Her energetic movements and equally capable

delivery of lines, whether in French or with a dirty cockney drawl, were

outstanding. Her face actually seemed to change as she shifted from

role to role, successfully wiping away our memories of her multiplicity

with each new portrayal.

Ronald Mangravite,

who also played Exeter and directed the play, made an eloquent chorus,

giving each line the crisp enunciation required to make a modern

audience comprehend. The fight scenes he coordinated were also well

done, especially given the tight space of the New Theatre's stage.


Douglas Wilson (Gower, Charles V, King of France, Orleans and

Canterbury), whose smug grin reminded me of a young Dan Akroyd, showed

charisma in each role, although it was seriously hard to keep them all

straight as the play stretched into the second hour.


Moyo channeled a great nobility in her performance as Henry. Without

appearing brutish or exaggerated, she managed to come across as

seamlessly masculine. This was most striking in her wooing of Katherine,

where her coy game-spitting was both incredibly convincing and

fascinating to watch, only partially because of the non-traditional

treatment of gender.

As talented as many of

the actors were, they weren't enough to compensate for the

stretched-too-thin casting. We'd recommend this play to serious

Shakespeare scholars. To others, we suggest waiting for Edith Can Shoot Things,

a new play coming to the Theatre in October, which promises to be the

type of modern production that New Theatre does very well.

The play will run through September 10th. Visit or call 305-443-5909.

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8567 Coral Way
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