Images of Uncle Sam, World War II and the Vietnam Memorial cycle across an upstage screen throughout this Henry V. The attractive montage proves something of a metaphor for the production, which, though pleasant to look at, hasn’t landed on any consistent visual metaphor, organizing principle or discernible answer to the question: Why?
Henry V follows the newly crowned king’s victory over the French. In this production, the most intriguing moments are Henry’s—when he enters the trenches in disguise to hear what his subjects have to say about their king, or plans how to graciously announce England’s triumph. Nick Lake makes an earnest, appealing and inquisitive king, truly curious to root out the proper relationship among sovereign, subject and state.
The script’s non-Henry portions are full of battle scenes and Shakespearean buffoons, none of which comes off to great effect here. The fight scenes (largely one-on-one) never quite convey the scope of war, and Henry’s St. Crispin’s day’s speech feels slightly goofy when delivered from atop a chair to an onstage crowd of half-a-dozen. The comic Mistress Quickly and her cohort are eminently forgettable. In the French court scenes, director Brian Pastor leans hard on light-in-loafers francophone stereotypes—especially in the case of the Dauphin (a dandyish Jeremy Trager), the script’s chief villain. This makes for a giggle or two, but there’s no real drama in pitting Henry against a crew of lightweights.