Thursday, March 12, 2009

High marks for 'Henry V'

Advice to the Players brings Shakespeare to Conway, N.H.

Advice to the Players brings history to life in William Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” The play opened Thursday at the Interlakes High School Community Auditorium in Meredith, N.H. and will be performed there again Friday before moving to the Salyards Center for the Arts in Conway, N.H. for performances Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Henry V” focuses on the titular king’s invasion of France and the climatic battle of Agincourt in which the underdog English miraculously defeated the French. Shakespeare gives the audiences scenes of both sides in the trenches as well as unexpected scenes such as Princess Katherine of France learning English.

In the last decade or so the trend has been to do contemporary updates of Shakespeare or to put some sort of twist on the material. I’ve seen “Othello” on a military base, “Two Gentleman of Verona” and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” set in the 1960s and “Richard II” in the corporate world. At this point, it is almost braver to do a traditional interpretation of the material.

“We started doing them traditionally from the very start because we were dealing with a population up here who had never really seen these plays at all and it just struck me that really a lot of the fun is to have costumes,” said Caroline Nesbitt, the artistic director of “Henry V.” “It also means we can use broad swords, which in all our productions is a very large drawing point.”

The broad swords, and more specifically how they are used, certainly are a drawing point for this “Henry V.” The fight scenes choreographed by Kevin Coleman, the director of education at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Mass., are thrilling and elaborate, but not confusing. They are worth the price of admission alone.

Thankfully, though, this is production is more than just battle scenes. Mark Woollett as Henry is a dynamic lead. He was appeared in other Advice to the Players Shakespearean productions including “Taming of the Shrew” and “Macbeth,” and his ease with the language is evident.

Woollett delivers the play’s most famous passages in which he rallies his troops into battle with great bravado, but also shows an assured knack for light comedy when he awkwardly attempts to woo Katherine (Mimi Gindoff).

Gindoff gives a fine low-key comedic performance. The previously mentioned scene in which she is attempting to learn English is a highlight of the show. She plays her frustration with the ugliness of the English language just right.

The performance I saw was a dress rehearsal and some of the performances were still in a formative state, so it wouldn’t be fair to nitpick too much. The cast includes actors as young as 13, and, although some of these younger performers don’t quite have the gravitas for some of the more dramatic scenes, their ability to handle the language is impressive.

Even though Nesbitt refers to the costumes as being “motley,” they are actually quite successful at hinting at the Elizabethan era. The production features a moody original score by Patrick Hornig that is sparingly but effectively used throughout the production.

Those accustomed to Shakespeare being a lengthy night out at the theater will be relieved to know that this performance is under two hours with a 10-minute intermission. It is a fast-moving, well-mounted production that makes for a good night (or afternoon) of theater.

Tickets are available in Tamworth at The Other Store, in Sandwich at Mocha Rizing, at the door, or by calling managing director Rebecca Boyden at 986-6253.

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