Henry V is not one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, so when I went with my school to see it at the Seattle Shakespeare Company recently, I knew almost nothing about it. My teacher explained that it was a story of war: Henry V, King of England, has claimed the French throne and now both England and France are at war. Or at least, that’s the basic idea. But there’s a lot more to the story than that.
In this particular play, war is portrayed as being a negative cycle of death and destruction, even though some believe it is a brave and honorable cause. Henry V is not a tragedy, however. As with all Shakespeare’s plays, there is a balance of comedy, romance, and tragedy. Though Henry V is considered a history play, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a boring lesson about a war that took place hundreds of years ago. The Seattle Shakespeare Company chose to set this play in America during the 1960s – the era of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and more. What this really means is that the costumes and props appear to be from this era, but the Shakespearean script is still the same. Though it may sound strange, this unusual setting helps put an old English war into an American perspective that is easier for the audience to relate to.
The actors of the Seattle Shakespeare Company did an amazing job. Because there was virtually no set, just props, costumes, and the actors themselves, it was all up to them to put on a good show – and they did. I scrutinized every actor during the course of the show, but there was never a moment where I saw any of them go out of character. At times, the actors were stern and thoughtful, fearful of an upcoming battle. At other times, they were bold and funny, even when joking about a serious situation. No matter where I looked, I found all the actors to be believable and committed to their roles. All in all, Henry V was an entertaining play with a message that resonates with our country even now: war, though often glorious, should never be taken lightly.
If Henry V sounds like your kind of play, you can still see it at the Seattle Shakespeare Company until May 9th. And if you’re a Teen Tix member, you can see it for only five bucks! Not a member? Sign up at Teentix. Can’t make it to the play? Then check out the book, sound recording, or movie from the library for free!
–Review by Callan, 16