This review has been reposted courtesy of the League of Cincinnati Theatres. For more LCT reviews click here to visit their reviews page.
There are many reason why you should put Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry V on your must see list of shows this year. Of course, Shakespeare’s war epic is a masterpiece and its language makes English majors tingle in their ears (you could hear it in the audience), but this particular production, directed by Brian Isaac Phillips with Justin McCombs in the starring role, is quite simply a love affair of theatrical genius.
It is not that the production transplants the Bard’s play into some unique setting, suddenly giving the story new meaning; this production remains in England and then Agincourt where Henry’s army of nobles and commoners battle and massacre the French army’s much larger fighting force.
No, what makes this production of Henry V so startling, so fantastic, is the pure breath of humanity that Phillips’ and his fabulous ensemble of actors have given to its story. This production is so utterly human, in fact, that you will laugh, feel heartsick (Act Three’s death of Falstaff is heartbreaking as the hostess describes trying to keep him warm until she realized he was dead), become suddenly uplifted, and then totally distraught all in a matter of 3 hours. In the end, however, you will leave the theatre aware of just how powerful Shakespeare’s Henry V can be.
The way McComb handles the text and embodies the character is so totally genuine that you will not have to suspend your disbelief; he makes Shakespeare’s words so much the king’s and provides such authentic behavior that you will find yourself identifying with this young man in every scene.
The rest of the ensemble also does a superb job, from Paul Riopelle’s chorus setting the scene to Caitlin McWelthy’s Katherine of France, whose courtship scene with Henry was an absolute gem, capturing with awkward grace the warrior Henry’s naïveté in matters of romance, even as it demonstrates Katherine’s growing comfort with the idea of marrying a man who just slew thousands of her countrymen.
Phillips’ direction takes its cues from Shakespeare’s own meta-theatrics, explicitly drawing on the audience to buy into the make-believe necessary to make “this wooden O” of the little stage hold throne rooms, taverns, the ocean, and the towns and fields of France.
I truly think that one could not ask for anything more from the stage. If there is only one Shakespeare show that you will see in CSC’s Henry V must be that show. Not only will it give you a glimpse of theatrical excellence, but it will also reveal a level of humanity that our contemporary artistic culture rarely brings to light.
For more information on the production, click here.