PROVO — Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s best known history plays thanks to the successful film by Kenneth Branagh, and another earlier film by Laurence Olivier. BYU’s Young Company brings this to the stage in an adapted version for young audiences. And while the creative staff trimmed the script to one hour, it is a wonderful production and a great introduction to Shakespeare.
Henry V was presented in the Nelke Experimental Theatre at BYU, which is a great production space. There are no poor sight lines, so everyone in the audience has a great seat. And for this performance there was a special section in front of the regular seats for kids to sit right in front of the stage. These kids were also asked to come on stage for some of the scenes in the play, such as the scene where Henry walks in disguise amongst his troops the night before battle. It was a great addition to the show.
The small cast of seven actors covered the 20 roles with ease and through the use of creative costume changes made it very clear which character they were portraying. Everyone played at least three roles, with the exception of Makenzie Larson, who played Henry. I have to say that it was an interesting choice to cast Henry as a woman, and one that I wasn’t too sure about at first. But it did work and thankfully the creative staff made the choice to refer to Henry as a woman throughout. Larson made for a satisfying Henry, particularly during the aforementioned walk amongst the troops and the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Larson was commanding and delivered her lines with conviction. All the cast gave convincing portrayals, with the only initial misgivings for me to be the decision to give Fluellen a hip-hop speech pattern. However, having looked up references to the character I do now see how fitting this portrayal is. Fluellen is a somewhat comedic part by intention, but still having poignancy. Matthew Fife did particularly well in the scene where the pageboy is killed by the French.
Director Megan Sanborn Jones and Dramaturg Anne Flinders adapted the script to a taut one hour, cutting and combining many characters and scenes. What remains tells the story and still feels like Shakespeare. Jones makes great use of switching characters by changing costume pieces that make it clear who the characters are. John Valdez, who also plays four of the characters in the show, did a magnificent job of creating convincing fight choreography for the battle scenes. While there is little actual combat between two actors, Valdez has created believable battle scenes by having all the actors battle against imagined foes. It fills the stage with action, and allows the audience to fill in the rest, which is, after all, what Shakespeare wanted. The Bard knew that no stage production could present the spectacle of the Battle of Agincourt with thousands of combatants, horses, archers, etc. Hence, Shakespeare begs the audience “. . . let us . . . on your imaginary forces work. For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings . . .” Perhaps because children are brimming with imagination this script works well for young audiences. Overall, BYU’s production of Henry V is a fine example of how to correctly adapt Shakespeare.