What’s the impact of war on the common man? Do the sins of leaders trickle down to their soldiers? Is patriotism dead? What does it mean to be a leader? These are just some of the themes explored in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. Featuring Kerry McGee’s boundary-breaking direction, intriguing performances, fierce stage combat, and rousing Shakespearean dialogue, We Happy Few’s Henry V is a fiercely entertaining, bare-knuckled view of the consequences of and dilemmas caused by war.
Centering around the young, English King Henry V’s efforts to conquer France in 1415, this is a production that punk rock veteran and D.C. native Henry Rollins would be proud of. We get to hear some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines of dialogue, all within an angry, punk rock milieu. Many of those lines were performed by the splendid Kiernan McGowan, who played the titular Henry V: From the siege of Harfleur:
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends…”; from Henry’s St. Crispin Day speech, “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” (from whence We Happy Few derived its name).
Niusha Nawab was riveting in the roles of Bardolph, Dauphin, and the Duke of Glouchester, inhabiting all of those characters with a certain joie de vivre. Wyckham Avery as the baseball-bat wielding, leggings-and-skirt-wearing soldier Pistol was unforgettable. Raven Bonniwell, We Happy Few’s co-founder, brought a grounded realism to her roles as the French princess Catherine and Fluellen. I loved Natasha Gallop’s delivery and stage presence as the Duke of Exeter.
The intense Robert Pike (who also designed sound) was particularly strong as the King of France, affecting a convincing accent. Josh Adams was impressive as the Earl of Westmoreland, Constable of France, and Corporal Nym. Riley Bartlebaugh effectively played Montjoy, the Herald of the French King, and Quickly, the Innkeeper at Boar’s Head Tavern.
A definite star of the show were the fights and movement designed by Lorraine Ressegger-Slone, which consisted of full-on swings of batons and baseball bats and actors hitting the ground—hard. A good director uses the space they have available, and McGee used every bit of the black box stage within the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop—including stairs that traversed the audience and three doors.
Arnel Sancianco’s set and visual design had a post-apocalyptic\Mad Max feel, consisting of simple wooden saw horses, a large wood table top, boxes and a trash can lid. Liz Gossens’ costumes held a punk rock sensibility, the only exceptions being the costumes associated with royalty. When you see Henry V, bring your helmet, keep your head on a swivel and enjoy the performances that bring Shakespeare’s themes of war, common soldiers and nobility alive.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.