Henry V staged at EESS

Review by Rob Perry

of The Aylmer Express

East Elgin Secondary School’s drama department has taken a brave turn, staging a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V last week.

Usual high school fare tends towards musicals and comedies, where youthful voices don’t seem out of place, while dramas are limited to one-act plays.

But drama teacher, director and producer Ceris Thomas chose this year to take on more substantial fare with an abridged, but still two hour long, version of Henry V, featuring a small army of actors.

And, for the most part, she and her troupe of actors and crew members have done a very credible, and at times outstanding, job.

Henry V is an excellent choice of subject material for young actors in a modern world obsessed by Game of Thrones.

This is an early version of that theme, with England’s King Henry contesting with his French counterpart for control of a large swath of land—and, in the end, the hand of the French Princess Katherine.

The EESS play is divided into a series of acts, each preceded by an explanatory prologue, moving from the English court to the battleground and the palace of the French king.

The entire cast, or at least most of it, comes on stage at the very beginning to deliver the opening prologue.

They’re dressed in casual grey clothing, looking all the world like a 1950s modern dance troupe about to give a stylized performance with a beatnik flavour, but it’s an effective moment before they spring into the opening act, garbed in sumptuous costumes of the period.

The set is simple, with red banners designating the lions of England and blue the background for the fleur de lys of France.

The play progresses through the insult paid to Henry by the French Dauphin with a gift of tennis balls, the invasion of France, the battle of Agincourt where the English longbows more than made up for a preponderance of numbers on the French side, and finally the peace negotiations and Henry’s wooing of Katherine.

The battle scenes are rousing, and while they could have benefitted from a bit more “zaaa” (longtime Stratford Festival fight director Patrick Crean’s description of dramatic presence during the action scenes), they were fast-paced and, most importantly in a stage production, safely conducted.

An air-powered cannon was a delightful surprise during one scene.

The actors who stood out the most those who spoke most clearly. Enunciation is especially important when dealing with convoluted Elizabethan-era dialogue.

Mark Koivu gave a stalwart performance as the title character, while Brittany Smale was a delight as the roguish Exeter.

Madi Wall was the best of the English traitors unmasked at one point by Henry, switching deftly from strident calls for harsh justice to pleading begging for mercy when she was the one arrested.

Justin Attfield was a regal and world-weary French King, and Kennedie Close excellent as the Dauphin.

Emily Falk as the coquettish Katherine and Jenna Gilbert as her worldlier maid Alice were adept and funny in a scene conducted almost exclusively in French, as the princess tried to learn a few English words.

Ms. Falk returned later and had a great scene dancing around the stage to avoid the romantic advances of Henry.

The crowd favourite was Kaitlin Jarvi as the English Captain Fluellen, chewing up the scenery as a soldier with a booming voice and belligerent attitude.

Ms. Thomas had done an outstanding job of staging the cast, moving large numbers on and off the stage quickly as they performed their scenes.

The play continues through this week, with performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students.

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