Henry V

Henry V

Orlando UCF Shakespeare Festival • Lake Eola Bandshell, Downtown Orlando

It’s tough being King. Fresh-faced Henry has just ascended the throne, and his advisors have two vaguely loony ideas that will stretch him to his limits. First, his dukes think invading France is a great way to spend the summer. Second, the Archbishop concocts a long, implausible theory that Henry has a better claim to France than the King of France himself. The Dauphin (heir to the French throne) exacerbates the tension by sending Henry an insulting gift of tennis balls, which whips everyone into a fury of iambic pentameter. Henry believes the French to be nothing but snail-eating sissies, and send in the troops. An early victory turns to agonizing siege when the army bogs down and catches the plague. More nasty e-mail is exchanged, and Henry’s dispirited troops all wish they were back in a bar in London. Worse, 8,500 fresh French troops have just appeared unexpectedly for dinner. Henry is a good king, and in good kingly fashion, he dresses down and mingles, discovering just how much trouble he is in. Stepping up the challenge, he gives several rousing speeches, reviving the troops’ spirits. Battle begins, special effects fly, and soon Henry wins the day at the second battle of Agincourt.

Henry (Jim Helsinger) is brilliant. He rants and runs, exhorts and extols, dispenses justice and prays for divine help with fire and spirit. His supporting cast hustles to keep up with his energy as they transition from faux WWII air raid shelter refugees to English legendary heroes and back again. Setting the play as a diversion in an air raid shelter provides context and plausibility for the aircraft and fire engines that always pass through Lake Eola open air theater. The only disquieting element arises as secondary characters are killed, only to reappear a few scenes later in different roles. After Shakespeare wrote a great “Guy” play, someone pointed out there was no sex, only violence. To compensate, he staples in a strained love scene between Henry and the French king’s daughter. It’s an awkward love story, at best.

Henry V follows a man as he finds his place as king, overcomes the bad judgment of others, and grows to become one of the great English warlords. The French? Well, their armor shines brighter, their horses prance prouder, and their shirts don’t smell. They have to lose the war. It’s the rule.

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