Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: (Winnipeg) Henry V

Andrew Cecon (photo credit: Allen Fraser)

When a reviewer puts away a notebook and just watches
by Nanette Soucy

I am a sucker for a good war story.

Chalk it up to coming of age near CFB Gagetown, in New Brunswick, where it’s been said that 1 in 4 men are enlisted, photos of our grandfathers in their uniforms inform our definition of handsome, seeing our boys off to war, or at least, Basic, an emotional and necessary sacrifice that feeds our sense of nobility and patriotism, and the foundation of so many friendships is poured like so much beer in the junior ranks’ mess.

Shakespeare in the Ruins imbues its production of Henry V with familiarity by setting it in the trenches of the Great War.  Emblematic of the almost clich├ęd universality of the Bard’s works, with a few clever ad-libs, cuts and edits, and a fantastic assembly of props and costumes, it is almost impossible to imagine that the story of Hal’s rejection of the old Eastcheap gang, his re-integration by disguise of the junior ranks, miraculous take-over of France, and getting the girl in the end, could take place in any other time, in any other context than World War I.

Hughes shows us a young king that is at once stalwart and sympathetic.

In the role of the young King, Toby Hughes’ ginger hair and Windsorish looks fits perfectly to make the image of this Shakespearian History seem a more recent slice of our own. Hughes’ performance strikes the balance of loyalty to his drinking buddies, in his stutter at his old friend Bardolf’s pleas for clemency after having been caught looting, and resolve to his royal station, when he doesn’t even flinch to hear the single shot of Bardolf’s execution sound over the ridge. Hughes shows us a young king that is at once stalwart and sympathetic.

The company takes us, scene by scene, on a walking tour through the grounds of Saint-Norbert’s Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park, which includes the ruins of a stone church, breaches, ridges and the banks of muddy La Salle River, an ideal setting for the period, and proof that Mother Nature is Canada’s greatest set designer.  The poetry of the setting was almost overwhelming, when the sulfur stink of the flares during the battle of Agincourt were combined with airplanes coincidentally flying overhead.

The Chorus-cum-War-Reporter (Kevin Lassen), Pistol (Andrew Cecon) and Nell Quickley (Sarah Constible), pulling her piano on a cart behind her, bide us move our chairs and follow along to the next scene with clever transitions and musical interludes. The failure to sustain these narrative segues in the final moments, when, rather than being led by Hostess Quickley and her charges to the next scene, the stage manager appears in her street clothes, snapping us out of the triumphant mood of England’s victory over France and asks us politely to move our chairs towards the play’s conclusion, almost ending the show prematurely, was the single solitary stain on this otherwise perfect outdoor production.

Henry V runs to June 23

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