Barabbas Theatre has captured a muse of fire and has ascended to the brightest heaven of invention with its adaptation of William Shakespeare’s dynamic history play, The Life of King Henry the Fifth. Henry V has been retitled H5x7 and that modern handle really tells you all you need to know about the 100 minute adaptation, presented with skill and panache by the Barabbas company of just seven players.
As the Chorus implores the audience during the prologue, “let us, ciphers to the great accompt / On your imaginary forces work.” Shakespeare straight, no chaser, is what these few, these happy few give as the four male and three female acting company take on all the roles, sparing none of the story.
Henry is still a new king with his eye on taking the throne of France as his own, despite vigorous objections from Paris. The scene still moves from England, to France, and back again, until the English and French forces meet on the field of battle outside of Agincourt. And Henry still gets to woo Katherine of France in one of the cutest and most romantic scenes from any of Shakespeare’s history plays.
The production includes projections of the script behind the actors for the duration of the performance. A requirement for all shows in the Gallaudet space, it serves those less familiar with the Shakespearean text. At first I found the supertitles – like watching a live opera at the Kennedy Center with the foreign text shown above. But since I am quite used to Shakespearean verse, I just kept my eyes on the actors and the action and forgot about the titles after the first scene.
Produced by Barabbas Theatre
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With sparse furniture, basic black costumes with creative accessories, and boundless energy, Barabbas Theatre presents the pro-Plantagenet/pro-England history play seamlessly from start to finish. Under the direction of Kevin O’Connell, the actors capture the patriotic fervor of the play, as well as the judicious humor Shakespeare scattered throughout. Movement consultant Elena Day has given the show a boost by helping the actors find the myriad characters in their bones, since they must often switch characters the middle of a scene. Elana Michelle, for example, plays the prideful and resolute King of France and his daughter, the naïve Princess Katherine; the actress switches from monarch to child in an instant without ever missing a beat.
Along with Michelle, the other members of the multi-tasked cast are likewise equal to the challenge of bringing the story of Henry V to life. Vince Eisenson cuts a dashing figure as the plainspoken and sober Henry – now matured from his days as Prince Harry, sidekick in mischief to Sir John Falstaff. Eisenson handles Henry’s dialogue and speeches in plain terms, keeping the images clear, and the young king’s intentions strong. The actor also doubles as Henry’s French rival, the Dauphin – heir apparent to the throne of France, and makes the distinction between the forthright English monarch and the dandy Frenchman a delicious contrast.
Joining Michelle and Eisenson, are Lizzi Albert, skillfully taking on roles as diverse as the French Ambassador, Montjoy the herald, the rascal Nym, and Shakespeare’s omniscient Chorus. Kevin Dykstra makes the most of his work as Henry’s chief advisor, Exeter, as old Bardolph, and as Gower. British transplant Peter Holdway – seen last season as Sydney Bruhl in NextStop Theatre’s Deathtrap – has a commanding presence, assaying the diverse roles as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Constable, Scroop, the Duke of Burgundy, and most memorably, Captain Fluellen, Henry’s loyal and very Welsh officer. Rounding out the cast, also playing a host of roles is the impressive Rachel Manteuffel.
This is an engaging production that could easily stand as a full-fledged production outside of the Fringe Festival. It deserves a large audience, either in another venue or as a touring venture. For now, I recommend you get tickets to H5x7 and cry for “Harry, Shakespeare, and Capital Fringe!”
H5x7 . An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V . Directed and adapted By Kevin O’Connell . Featuring Lizzi Albert, Kevin Dykstra, Vince Eisenson, Peter Holdway, Rachel Manteuffel, Elana Michelle, Seth Rosenke . Movement consultant: Elena Day . Stage manager: Rebecca Talisman . Produced by Barabbas Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.