War is the point of contention in Theatre UNB’s final production of the year. The large cast of students enrolled in Drama 2175/3175 makes up the story of war and honour, and characters of nobility and peasantry. The nationalist spirit in Henry V is brought to life, with nuanced critiques of imperialist efforts of the past and the present. The director, Len Faulkenstein, thanks the cast for their diligent commitment and applauds their talent.
Shakespeare’s Henry V presents a historical recount of the young King’s ascent to the throne and his willingness to assert his authority and strengthen the loyalty of his subjects. His claim to the French throne then causes the break in peace between the countries and the Battle of Agincourt ensues. The English are outnumbered, and Henry disguises himself as a common soldier to encourage his troops. After the horrors of battle subsided, Henry’s England wins and negotiates peace with France. The king marries the French princess, uniting the countries.
As a prominent figure of the play’s title character, the large shoes of Henry V are filled suitably by Heidi Downing. She is as stoic as royalty and as dedicated to England as a soldier. As a female, she challenges the character of Henry and the masculine environment of war he stands with and for. Gender is not a prevalent notion in Shakespeare’s original writing of the play but Theatre UNB makes an effort to involve a question of gender.
Prior to the war, the politics within the kingdoms are fleshed out dramatically. Both Henry and the King of France, played by Autumn Roy, are women, but still referred to as kings and spoken to with respect by their surrounding advisors who are notably all male. The production is very blind to gender, calling upon the audience to question the facades of gender performance.
The quartet of civilians that volunteer for the English war effort provide scenes of comedic relief amid scenes of battle and royal deliberation. Josh Burke plays Bardolph, a rowdy, nationalist citizen willing to brave the horrors of war, alongside Nym, Pistol, and Boy, played by Liam Johnson, Seth Giberson, and Finnley Boehm, respectively.
The subplot differs from the formal tone of the play but is central to the play’s critique of war and imperialism. The men are eager to fight for the imperialist efforts of their country, but cower when the time comes to charge. War, then and now, is believed to be, in a very impersonal sense, simply an exchange of men for the honour of one’s country. There is a harmful understatement in the depiction of war that enables the general population to grow indifferent to the nature of war.
The backstage affairs of set, construction, lighting, and sound were provided by the students of DRAM/ENGL 2174. Specifically, Eli Gignac acted as stage manager, while Trent Logan was the technical director and production designer. Other prominent members were Judy Joe Scheffler, Sarah Osier, and Finnley Boehm as assistant technical directors.