Review: Henry V at Arkansas Repertory Theatre

Avery Clark, who wowed Arkansas Repertory Theatre audiences in 2010 with his tantalizing portrayal of Hamlet, is by turns passionate, brutal, clever, forgiving and forceful as the brash young hero of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

But what makes the Rep’s production a must-see is Clark’s way with humor. And this play, although focused on a 15th-century war between England and France — with its attendant drama, agony and intrigue — is plenty funny. 

The elaborate production, directed by Robert Hupp, has a huge number of characters but not nearly as many cast members, as almost everyone on stage plays two or more roles. This can get confusing — especially when a distinctive actor like Bill Jones plays Sir Thomas Erpingham, an officer in the king’s army, as well as the French Duke of Bourbon — but you can figure out who’s who from the context and the costumes.

Here’s the setup: Henry, who’s the 15th-century equivalent of a frat boy, becomes king of England upon the death of his father. A couple of English religious leaders with ulterior motives convince Henry to renew an on-again off-again claim to the French throne. So after an exchange of insults with the snarky French Dauphin (Nate Washburn), Henry decides to lead his troops in an invasion of France.

Along the way, he’s forced to grow up in a hurry to deal with conspiracies, exhausted and sickly troops, setbacks, naysayers, booklickers, a smart-mouthed kid (well played by Andrew Curzon) and his own inexperience and hot temper. 

Oh, and don’t forget Henry’s attraction to Katherine of Alois (Nikki Coble), the daughter of King Charles VI of France. If only she could speak English — a situation that frustrates the young monarch as he attempts to woo the fragile beauty in the play’s funniest and warmest scene. 

The play is filled with muscularly choreographed battle sequences (played out on Mike Nichols’ creatively functional multi-tiered platform set), but its greatest appeal lies in its artful words. To Henry’s credit, he’s a fine public speaker, rousing his troops with a speech — magnificently delivered by Clark — that includes the inspiring phrase, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother … And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s Day.” 

The production continues through Sept. 23. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25-$45. To purchase call (501) 378-0405. In honor of Nichols’ 30th anniversary at The Rep, a commemorative display of Nichols’ work over the past 30 years is on exhibit exhibited during the run of Henry V and throughout the season.

Watch how fight director, D.C. Wright choreographed some of the epic fight scenes from Henry V:

Related Articles