Colorado Shakes presents a “ragtag” but powerful production of Shakespeare’s war epic Henry V

[Images by Jennifer Koskinen]

First impressions are important, and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s recent production of Henry V made quite the first impression.

As the audience settled, the curtain was up, letting them examine stage design. A ghost light stood front and center on the stage, illuminating a set that was reminiscent of an antique store. Arranged haphazardly on wooden scaffolding were chandeliers, chairs, crates, as well as more eclectic items – a baby carriage, a piano, a mannequin, and more.

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An odd choice for depicting battle scenes and royal courts. The transformation began with the invocation to a “muse of fire”. As the Chorus (Sam Gregory) spoke, actors emerged and snapped to action, putting on costumes and arranging the paraphernalia into the English court.

The lights stayed on for the entire production, allowing us to watch scene changes and the occasional costume change (including make-up application). While at times it distracted from the scene on stage – Bardolph applying his nose make-up caught my eye especially – the raw style complemented the lines of the Chorus, and paid homage to Shakespeare’s original staging conditions in a novel way.

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Overall, it worked really well. The actors’ performance matched the set design in every way. Benjamin Bonenfant managed to reconcile the contradictory aspects of King Harry – his furious war tactics were as believable as his awkward love antics.

As a play, Henry V demands a huge range from the cast – bickering troops, hilarious portrayals of the French, an endearing yet awkward love scene, genuine moments of sadness, and gruesome depictions of war.

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This production gave the same authenticity to them all. In her introduction to the play, director Carolyn Howarth says, “All we can do, my ragtag team and I, is tell his story.” And they did.

Colorado Shakespeare is an annual summer festival hosted on the University of Colorado Boulder campus.
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