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The Return of The King

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Henry V previewed tonight at OSF, and it’s a really excellent, classic performance.

The problem with many performances of Henry V is that the directors and producers get caught up in directly presenting the visuals, with battles, courts, and scenes grand and humble shown in great detail. This is considered “traditional”.

But the text belies such productions; the prologue speaks in some detail of the humble presentation inadequately portraying momentous events; the epilogue bookends this sentiment.

It is in this attitude and countenance that OSF frames this season’s presentation of Henry V; in simple costume, with spare stage and meager fixtures, and letting the acting and text drive each imagination in its own courses.

Henry V being one of the most often produced of the histories, because it stands so well on its own and because it is one of the heroic canons of English history, there are many comparisons to be made. The most likely for the OSF audience is probably to the Brannagh film version, a type emblematic of the “big budget” productions that features in sight and sound all those things that the original text leaves to the mind of the audience. That rendition had audio editing, a special effects budget, and enough cast to swell the stage and drop the viewer into the midst battle of Agincourt and the courts of France and England without having to strain a single languid neuron.

This Henry, with the more subtle form of exposition, makes the audience really pay attention to the text, because it’s the text that conveys the story, not the trappings of costume and stagecraft. One really needs to listen closely to the nuance of the language, deftly delivered by all of the cast, to see the pageantry of the courts and morbidity of the battles; to walk with Henry among the troops before the Crispin’s Day battle, and with Pistol and crew as they try to avoid their duties at Harfleur. This is not a Henry for the passive observer, but a treat for one who enjoys the naked text.

Highly recommended; it’s an excellent ending to this run of the Henry series at OSF.


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