Saturday evening we went to meet my son at Patrick Henry College to attend Eden Troupe's latest production, Henry V. To prepare for the big event I read the play the day before, then that night our family watched Kenneth Branagh's screen version. One thing I've learned about Shakespeare, or even any plays, is that as good as they are when read, they take on a whole new meaning when they are performed. Plays are meant to be performed! And as wonderful as Branagh's moving version of Henry V is, to not worry about the muse's concern of a mere stage performance for an epic story, Branagh definitely opens our imaginations! However to be immersed in Henry V, as we were by Eden Troupe's performance, brought tingles to the spine.
Action, pathos, drama, emotion, laughter, silliness, wooing, and love were all heroicly performed by Eden Troupe who also, in historically accurate manner, broke the fourth wall. Theater in Shakespeare's day was quite different from today where we quietly sit and applaud after favorite scenes as if we are sitting behind a wall and the performers cannot see us. In the past actors broke the fourth wall by engaging directly with the audience by talking to them and including them in the performance. We, as an audience, humorously got to help unsheath a sword and help the French princess learn English. Most fearfully yet thrillingly we were immersed in the midst of the Battle of Agincourt while the clashing and clinking of swords clanged from the front, sides and back of us. Most poignantly we became part of the hymn, Non Nobis Domine, which began as a solo after the battle ended, soon swelling from all around and behind us as the remaining soldiers slowly carried their dead comrades to the front.
When the muse apologized for the inadequate surroundings to present castle and battle scenes, I had to smile. Sheakespeare had his Globe Theater, but Eden Troupe, the college drama club that is entirely led by students, were challenged by the humblest of spaces. Nevertheless we were effectively transported to the 15th century, at times in England, at other times in France, but always for Harry. Before the play began, the director explained a bit of background, telling us that Henry V was historically accurate. He challenged us to watch the progression of change in Henry through the play. Henry had led a notoriously foppish life in his youth, which he abandoned when his father died and he assumed the crown. Great deeds, choices, and responsibilities lay in his wake.
Although we all knew the battle numbers were accurate, I read here that even the story of the hanging of Bardolph was accurate. Although Bardolph is a fictional character, Shakespeare wrote the scene around an actual incident where one of the soldiers had robbed a church. Not only did Henry feel that he was the King of France, but he cared about the people as he cared for his own in England. He did not want the citizens of France razed. Also I read that Henry was truly in love with Katherine. (Henry V: Fact and Fiction, Ace G. Pilkington, Midsummer Magazine, 1997)
As I watched the camaraderie of the "band of brothers"(Act 4, Scene 3, Line 62), the camaderie of the student body (both on stage and in the audience) was obvious, bringing back many memories of our own homeschool history presenatations. We have also watched a lot of 18th century theater at Colonial Williamsburg, being entirely immersed in historically accurate theater that breaks the fourth wall. While at CW we have even seen the fops on stage! Everything was spot on at PHC in most appropriate manner! Huzzah!
For a behind the scenes look, watch this.
For a trailer of the play, watch this.