Robert Richmond on Directing ‘Henry V’ at Folger Theatre by Joel Markowitz

Director Robert Richmond talks about his vision for Henry V at Folger Theatre, which is receiving raves from audiences and local critics alike.

Director Robert Richmond. Photo courtesy of Folger Theatre.

Director Robert Richmond. Photo courtesy of Folger Theatre.

Joel: Why did you want to direct this production of Henry V at Folger Theatre?

Robert: The production rather chose me. After the success of Henry VIII (Folger Theatre, 2010) it seemed that I was the most likely choice to direct this particular show. With my British background, my DNA is hard-wired to the history of this period and I took up the challenge gladly. I have also worked on Othello, now Henry V and soon Twelfth Night here.

What was your vision for this production when you first became involved, and how has it changed as you have participated in rehearsals?

With 13 actors and character list of 40 or more speaking parts, the vision was to make it possible for an audience to become transported to some of the most epic battles and events in history. The Chorus asks for us to use our imaginations and to make believe — or else the play will not satisfy. So, with that in mind, it became imperative that we embrace the audience and allow them to become complicit in the action.

Describe the Henry we meet when the play begins and when it ends. What are the most dramatic changes we see with Henry throughout the play?

He is a young make with a somewhat wild reputation. He must charm us and grow into the King that the nation needs very quickly. On that path he has to make sacrifices; be it best friends, human lives, or lead a nation into war. We follow his journey and perhaps better understand the responsibilities of leadership.

We just had a Presidential election. How are the themes and lessons of Henry V relevant to a country that just re-elected a young leader who continues face staunch opposition to his policies and proposals?

Henry V is able to unite a nation and allow it to celebrate the differences that make up a whole. The Irish, Scottish, and Welsh are persuaded and charmed by him to put an end to polarization and to move forward as one country. This is a lesson we could certainly look closely at.

Introduce us to your designers and tell us what has impressed you most about their designs and tell me how their designs have brought your vision to life?

The same design team are creating Henry V and Twelfth Night later in the season. They were also my collaborators on Othello last season. Tony Cisek creates the world with incredible set design, Mariah Hale make costumes seem like peoples’ clothes, Andrew Griffin illuminates and textures the atmosphere with lights, and on this production, Michael Rasbury creates a fantastic surround sound movie-scape. Each one of them is quite brilliant and we laugh a lot and discuss a project with complete honesty.

What have been some of the challenges of directing Henry V in The Folger space?

Well, the Folger can be both intimate and epic in the same scene. It has an energy of many years of scholarship and performance that comes out of the woodwork. A play like Henry V is helped by these surroundings. You feel in the play at all times and are never allowed to drift.

When did you begin rehearsals and what have you learned during rehearsals that has lead to changes in your direction?

We began on December 26th and became fully involved within a few hours. A play like this has to become all-consuming. Every plot point and every beat in a scene needs to be crafted and reworked to make the story clear and concise. I have been very pleased with the amount of humanity that we have found with this cast and how we have rounded out some of the other characters’ stories. The death of Mrs. Quickly, often just mentioned, the death on Nym and so on. These details make the evening very satisfying.

There are 13 cast members in the show. What had been the most fun about working with them? What impresses you the most about their performances and what have you learned about them that has impressed you and surprised you since you began rehearsals?

This has been a true ensemble and their patient and talent is quite wonderful. Each member has a versatility that is remarkable and we all share a very sharp sense of humor. I have admired their commitment and humility.

Have you worked with any of the cast or designers before? 

Yes, all of the designers, and I have worked with Louis Butelli, Richard Sheridan Willis, Cameron Pow, and Andrew Schwartz for many years. Chris Genebach has become a good friend from Othello. The shorthand has allowed us to move quickly on a very large scale play.

Zach Appelman stars as the young king, Henry V. Photo taken by Scott Suchman.

Zach Appelman stars as the young king, Henry V. Photo taken by Scott Suchman.

How would you describe Zach Appelman’s performance as Henry? What do you admire most about his performance, and why do you think audiences will enjoy his performance?

Zach is charming, human and kingly all in a moment. He is truly a young man finding his footing in leadership and becoming a star, both on and off stage.

What scene or scenes have been the most difficult to direct?

Every scene has so much potential that it becomes more difficult to chose what to edit than what to invent. But battles are always a challenge with a small cast with little room. However, fight choreographer Casey Kaleba has done a fantastic job of turning less into more.

Are there any other Shakespearean works that you would like to direct that you haven’t directed yet? And why would you like to direct this/these plays?

Yes, all of the impossible ones. I would like someday to do Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, and Anthony and Cleopatra.

What advice would you give a young university director who is about to direct his first production of Henry V?

Trust the structure, but make some cuts. It is too long otherwise. Get a good Dramaturg because Michele Osherow has been such an important part of putting this history play on stage.

What do you want audiences to take with you after seeing your production of Henry V at Folger Theatre?

The need to come back and see it again! Or buy a ticket to Twelfth Night which plays April 3-June 9, 2013.

Henry V plays at Folger Theatre – 201 East Capitol Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.

Read Mark Dewey’s review of Henry V on DCMTA.

Robert Richmond’s website.

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