In 1944, Lawrence Olivier directed and starred in a hyper-jingoistic cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s great historical drama Henry V. The film was intended partly as a piece of wartime propaganda, rallying the British population by retelling the story of King Henry’s unlikely defeat of the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
At Main Street Theater, Guy Roberts (who, like Olivier, both directs and stars in the play) hopes to give audiences a different view of Henry V, one that also shows the darker side of war and of Henry himself.
“We’ve chosen a very balanced view of the play,” Roberts says. “We try to represent everything that Shakespeare put into the text, including all of the things that make Henry seem less heroic. All that stuff is included, but I don’t think that it diminishes Henry or the play; it makes it a more human drama. We’re not trying to demystify or belittle any of the heroics of the British soldiers. It’s about heroism, but it’s all the other stuff as well.”
Some contemporary literary critics, such as Harold Bloom, view Henry V as a deeply ironic play, one that seems to celebrate English national power while subtly questioning the value of Henry’s war-making.
Roberts agrees: “I think it’s both intensely patriotic and intensely ironic, and that’s what’s so fantastic,” he says. “I think the play is exactly the way [Shakespeare] meant it to be. Exciting, stirring, dangerous, dark, provocative, thrilling, funny, depressing, uplifting. The fact that he manages to do all these things is what makes him the greatest writer to ever chronicle the human condition. I hope our production is able to touch on at least a few of these elements while engaging and entertaining our audiences.”
Henry V is a co-production of Main Street Theater and the Prague Shakespeare Company (led by Guy Roberts), which teamed up last season for a well-received staging of Richard III. Following the April 7 matinee performance, Rice Shakespeare scholar J. Dennis Huston will lead a discussion about the play
Main Street Theater
Thru April 21
2540 Times Blvd 77005