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Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Once more, William Shakespeare’s “Henry V” will swash and buckle its way across the Folger Theatre’s stage.
The production, which opened Jan. 22, was finishing rehearsals while Washington was in the grip of the frenetic pomp and circumstance of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
“It was my first inauguration,” director Robert Richmond said. “It was great. I’m staying on the Hill, as well. It was amazing to feel that kind of energy.”
Richmond, a U.K. expat, told his cast to draw from the inaugural experience.
“Just the emotion of it is exactly what we have to capture,” he told them. “[The show] has to have that kind of human fervor.”
“Henry V,” the last in the Bard’s four-play royal saga, shows the young Prince Harry featured in the earlier plays, as a grown-up King Henry. The man has lost the awkward charm of youth and has matured into a warrior king and leader of state. Henry drips with the charisma necessary to lead scores of his countrymen into, and ultimately through, the horrors of war.
“I think it really resonates right now,” Richmond said. “And it really resonates in Washington, D.C.”
“I think that everybody has encountered some of the famous speeches from the play. Everyone comes to the play with some sort of preconception,” Richmond continued.
It’s interesting that this historical drama is one of the Bard’s most popular and oft quoted, because this isn’t a light comedic number. More than other Shakespeare plays, “Henry V” requires the audience to work in conjunction with director and actors, to let their imagination take over, in order to see the play fully realized in their mind’s eye.
The character of Chorus is the audience’s guide through the action. He welcomes the audience by acknowledging the shortcomings inherent in trying to stage an epic story of war in the theater.
“‘We are just a small group of people, we don’t have everything we need, but if you use your imagination then it will all come together,’” Richmond says, a paraphrase of Chorus’ early lines. In other words, the audience is on the hook to picture the scenes. It is the imagination of the collective that will sweep the actors from the set to the battleground, where hundreds and hundreds of soldiers hack at each other from horseback.The Greater Share of Honor
Like the two most famous productions of “Henry V,” Richmond’s show is very much a product of its time in history.