During the 100 years war, newly minted monarch, Henry V, launched an invasion that led to the particularly bloody Battle of Agincourt. Some time later, a playwright of some repute, William Shakespeare, as part of a series of historical plays, wrote about that event. Some time later still, Ottawa’s twenty-years-running professional Shakespeare company, A Company of Fools, gives that play their particular treatment in a parks tour around the city. Should you see it?
No better way to invade France than with A Company of Fools.
Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s histories: telling the story of Henry V’s journey to and invasion of France for the Battle of Agincourt, where wooing the French Princess Catherine (played by Simon Bradshaw in drag) turns out to be just as hard as the invasion itself – which in this production consists of an onslaught of tennis balls.
A Company of Fools is well known for their, shall we say, foolish, interpretations of The Bard’s works — Yes, that was a predictable pun. Yes, I’m ashamed. — and their take on Henry V certainly lives up to their reputation. Here, in a bit of role reversal, Margo McDonald plays a perfectly majestic and regal and strong Henry V. Backing her up as almost too many characters to keep track of properly – French, English, Puppet – are a truly wonderful cast including Simon Bradshaw, Kelly Rigole, Virginia West, and Katie Ryerson. Bearing special mention is Simon Bradshaw, one of Ottawa’s strongest actors, who among other things plays a brown bear puppet that meets an unfortunate end and a dashing Princess Catherine – the courtship scene and scene where “she” tries to learn English in anticipation of the invasion being particular highlights of the show. Also, Katie Ryerson, who has a decidedly strong presence on stage and commanded attention every second she was on.
Despite the lack of intermission, Henry V trots at a quick pace with rapid scene changes and a lot of quick costume changes – which meant the costumes were kept simple but were enough to clearly distinguish between all the different characters (even if you’re sitting pretty far back). The material — perhaps most importantly — is conveyed in a way that while, naturally, fun, also makes the story easy to follow and understand even if you won’t remember every character’s name.
Among many highlights and fun scenes to be ready for, the audience gets to become a very active part of staging a successful invasion. So if you’ve had a jonesin’ to thrash the medieval French, this here’s your chance.
A Company of Fool’s Henry V is fun for the whole family and on a park tour across Ottawa through August 18th so you’ll need to check their website to see exactly where they’ll be. Access is pay-what-you-can via pass-the-hat donation so bring the right cash, bring extra cash, or bring a cheque ‘cuz they take those, too.
Remember to go prepared: you’ll need to bring your own chair or blanket, sun screen, bug spray, and so on and so forth. Plus – get there early. There was a pretty significant crowd on the night I was out at Hintonburg park (I got stuck quite a ways back) and word from on high is that they rocked an audience of almost 400 at Strathcona park this week. That there, is probably all the social proof you need.
What was your favourite moment in Henry V? If you haven’t seen it, are you planning to? Let me know in the comments below. I’d like to hear what you’re thinking.