“Henry V” 17 January 2009, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

It was with some trepidation that I bought tickets for the Guthrie’s staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Branagh’s 1990 film is a favorite of mine; I think I saw it a half dozen times in the theater. And I was underwhelmed by the last two productions I saw at the Guthrie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jane Eyre. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that this production, by The Acting Company/Guthrie Theater, was a treat.

This play, with multiple addresses to the audience exhorting them to imagine, was well set in the black-box Dowling Studio. The staging was spare but effective: a two-story semicircle with moving walls, and a few rolling tables that doubled as props and sound makers. All actors but the lead played multiple parts, from two to five. Matthew Amendt, as Henry V, can be forgiven for not doubling; he was in almost every scene of the 2 hour, 50 minute play. His youth and good looks suited him for the part, and though he struggled a bit with the Welsh accent and had a tendency to over-enunciate, his delivery and presence were a good match for the charismatic new king. The rest of the cast, moving in and out of parts, and throughout various iteratrions of their multiple-zippered garments, were equally strong. William Sturdivant as Fluellen, stood out particularly for his presence and delivery. In only one instance did I confuse one player’s characters. Overall, the speed of their changes coupled with the effective switches in character was both impressive and just plain fun to watch.

The scene in which Katherine learns English was staged strangely, with several of the cast used as demonstrative props. For me, it didn’t gel with the mroe straightforward storytelling of the rest of the production. But the scene at the end of Harry with Katherine more than compensated. Amendt and Kelly Curran were funny and sweet in one of my favorite scenes by the Bard.

This production starts in Minneapolis and will tour the US. It’s worth seeking out. If you’re in the Twin Cities don’t dawdle; it’s only here until 1 February 2009.

Only a few reviews are out there. Here’s a pro, and a con.

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