First introduced to audiences as Prince Hal in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, the now King Henry V has transformed from a rebellious young man, into a heralded King with cunning and conviction. This metamorphosis becomes clear early in the play, as the King and his councilmen devise a plan that will lead to the capturing of the French throne. Ultimately, the King's plan takes his men to battle, and though outnumbered, they rise victorious.
To stage a play of this magnitude is never a small feat, with a cast of over twenty characters and a plot reaching across two countries. Brave enough to take on this challenge is St. Louis Shakespeare, who in its 27th season should have the experience and fire power to meet this challenge with ease, yet ends up struggling to stage a full-proof production.
This is most evidenced by the wide range of acting abilities among the large cast, led by actor Joshua Thomas as King Henry. Thomas sets the bar high for his fellow actors, gracing the stage with a presence that is commanding and well calculated. Those seated closest to Thomas were quick to follow his lead, including Eric White who plays the Duke of Exeter, and Nick Henderson, who plays multiple roles including the Earl of Cambridge, and later as MacMorris, and the Duke of Bourbon. Each delivered a performance that was well defined and articulated, making their characters understandable (key for Shakespeare), and believable.
Unfortunately, most of the cast was unable to achieve the same in their performances; some chewed through lines making them inaudible or difficult to understand. Others were unable to sharply define their characters and bring clarity to time and space of the play. To make this point clear, only a few actors playing French roles chose to speak with an accent, while others, including Ethan Jones as the King of France, carried on with a standard Midwestern dialect. This inconsistency made the production appear sloppy, unclear, and insincere.
Adding a ray of light to the stormy production, costume designer Alexandra Scibetta Quigley outfitted each actor with gorgeous, colorful patterns well suited for the 15th century. During this particular performance, technical difficulties with lighting designed by Steve Miller made for an unusual intermission and opening of Act 2. Set designer Cristie Johnston created a neutral platform for actors to move to and from England and France, and in and around battle scenes. The problem; however, rested in the staging of this production, where it was often difficult to determine the location of certain scenes.
Serving as the play's travel director is the Chorus, played by St. Louis Shakespeare's Artistic Director, Donna Northcott. Rather than serve as a thoughtful guide, Northcott takes to the stage (in contemporary attire) with a sense of urgency, delivering lines as if to usher the audience out of a burning building, rather than carefully transport them to the plays various destinations. This added to the confusion, making it less clear where our imagination was to venture next.
Directing St. Louis Shakespeare's Henry V is Cameron Ulrich, whose struggle to bind this complex play was reflected by the productions many lulls and inconsistencies. If not for the power behind Joshua Thomas' performance as King Henry, this production would have suffered far more than it did.
Ultimately, the weight of the play was left to be carried on the shoulders of a few strong actors who, though good, could not perform miracle surgery on a play that suffered from many wounds.
You can catch remaining performances of St. Louis Shakespeare's Henry V through October 9th. For tickets and more information you may call 314-361-3664.