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.
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
Actors Robert Alter, Sipiwe Moyo, and Scott Douglas Wilson in Henry V
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
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.
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 new-theatre.org or call 305-443-5909.
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