Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"RS has done [Henry V] proud..a fine evening of entertainment." Review, STYLEWeekly

King Me

Richmond Shakespeare’s “Henry V” proves sequels can improve on the originals. by Mary Burruss

Princess Katherine (Sarah Jamillah Johnson) is wooed by Henry (Phillip James Brown) and his authentic English accent in “Henry V.” Photo by Bruce Parker

Anglophiles, history buffs and drama nerds rejoice! It is summer and the long-awaited Richmond Shakespeare production of “Henry V” has opened. For those of you not listed in the aforementioned categories of the anticipatory, the excitement is akin to the release of the next “Harry Potter” or “Twilight.” But unlike some sequels, this production is wonderful.

“Henry V,” the fourth installment of Shakespeare’s tetralogy chronicling the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, is the best of the four and Richmond Shakespeare has done it proud. Director James Alexander Bond has selected a stellar cast of local actors and directed deftly around the central figure, played by London-based actor Phillip James Brown, who returns to Richmond for the third summer to take his crown as King Henry (the sovereign formerly known as Prince Hal). The actors are planets that revolve around Brown’s handsome sun. He makes as fine a warrior motivating his troops in the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech as he makes a nervous beau courting Princess Katherine.

In sharp contrast to Brown’s regal Henry is Bob Jones’ equally savvy incarnation of the comedic Captain Fluellen. Jones makes the larger-than-life character believable and multifaceted, while including wild gestures and a hilarious overblown Welsh accent, making Shakespeare’s jibe on Welshmen all the funnier.

Joseph Carlson masters his portrayal of Pistol this season, deftly executing comic bits and pouncing about the stage in Vanessa Passini’s excellently choreographed fight scenes. He has matured as an actor in the past year, turning last year’s great performance into an outstanding one this season.

This play has something for everyone: humor, battle scenes, romance and a winning underdog. “Henry V” is a fine evening of entertainment for anyone who can stay up past 10:30. “Henry V” plays June 11- 28, Thursday-Sunday at 8 p.m. at Agecroft Hall. Tickets are $13-$25. Visit or call 866-BARD-TIX.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"The Peak Theatrical Experience in Richmond Is Back" Henry V Review, Richmond Times Dispatch

‘Henry V’ ends cycle on passionate, comedic note

Theater review
At: Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road Through: June 28 Tickets: $25 (16 and under $13) Info: 866-BARDTIX

Published: June 15, 2009

The peak theatrical pleasure to be had in Richmond is back: summer Shakespeare at Agecroft Hall.

It's a happy mystery how hot, humid days can switch to cool evenings just as the Elizabethan verse gets going, but it seems to happen every time.
This season's opener is "Henry V," the culmination of three years pursuing the Henry cycle. James Alexander Bond has directed all three plays, and Phillip James Brown has played the younger Henry throughout, granting audiences a marvelous artistic continuity.

And again Bond, aided by Master of Verse Cynde Liffick, has brought us a rousing and gripping production, full of action (including Vanessa Passini's fight direction and Cecile Tuzii's movement coaching), passion and comedy.
The formerly roguish Prince Hal is now King Henry, and the English clergy are urging him to seize France as rightfully his. The French dauphin insults him, and Henry prepares for war.

There are combat scenes and interludes of diplomacy; there are remarkable moments when Henry goes incognito among his soldiers on the eve of battle. And there are stirring moments when Henry exhorts his troops -- "Once more unto the breach" and "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Though there are comic and touching diversions, "Henry V" has no Falstaff, so Henry himself is the clear focus -- and Brown is powerful and magnetic enough to keep us riveted throughout. He shows just a few signs of the slacker he was; Brown is regal with a common touch. Wonderfully musical with the verse, he's also an inspiring leader, a steely judge, and a warm and awkward suitor in his final scene with the French princess.

Bond has balanced the production by emphasizing Shakespeare's varied comedic turns. The strongest of these is Bob Jones' Fluellen, the Welsh captain. Jones delights with his mastery of language and his unexpected physicality. Joseph Anthony Carlson, returning as Pistol, is a delightfully comic blusterer, and the pair of Phillip Reid and Thomas L. Cunningham as Bardolph and Nym amuse as well.

The cast of 19 performs 37 roles, with particularly strong supporting performances by Brandon Crowder, Nicholas Aliff, Tim Saukiavicus, Alan Sader, Joseph Sultani, Jamie Rees, Sarah Jamillah Johnson, Jeffrey Cole, Michael Hamilton and Jacqueline O'Connor. J. David White's lighting is dramatic, and the reliable Rebecca Cairns and Ann Hoskins contribute wonderfully detailed costumes.

This "Henry V" is a fully satisfying end to the saga.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

RTD PREVIEW: "The Bard is Back at Agecroft"

Shakespeare Festival kicks off with “Henry V”

Richmond Shakespeare Festival Productions: "Henry V" (tonight-June 28); "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (July 2-12); "Hamlet" (July 16-Aug. 2) Where: Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road. Gates open at 7 p.m., and the Festival Young Company entertains on the grounds; all performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets: or 1-866-227-3849

With a trio of productions this summer and only three more months until its new permanent indoor home, Richmond CenterStage, is ready, the folks at Richmond Shakespeare are understandably excited.

On his desk, Artistic Director Grant Mudge even has a mini version of the CenterStage countdown clock currently facing Broad Street.
But before that fall season launches -- it will mark the 25th year of Richmond Shakespeare -- its popular summer shows on the grounds of Agecroft Hall will commence tonight.

This season, the group is tackling "Henry V," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Hamlet," which Mudge is also directing.
Last year, "Henry IV, Part 2," was the centerpiece production. Mudge said the cycle of Shakespeare's histories will be completed by 2012.
"The stories are universal," he said of Shakespeare's ongoing appeal. "They're personal stories, personally told, and doing them at Agecroft really is something special. It's 500 years old and came from England, so we play in the courtyard just as Elizabethan actors would."

Starring in the role of King Henry in "Henry V" is London-born actor Phil Brown, who played Prince Hal the past two summers in "Henry IV, Part 1" and "Part 2."

Brown came to Richmond two years ago after being recruited by director James Bond -- who also is helming this year's "Henry" -- and the self-described "Shakespeare geek" said playing King Henry is tricky yet rewarding.

"When Shakespeare was writing 'Henry V,' one of his challenges was that he was writing about the king, the be all and end all of great kings. He had two tasks: to present the king in a way that wouldn't get him into trouble with Elizabeth and also to write a real human character facing real problems," Brown said last week.

"In 'Henry V,' the crown almost acts like a mask. The prince becomes the man, and the man has to deal with the responsibilities of the crown. In that respect, it's very complex, because you're trying to find where the voice is the king and where the voice is the prince and where to find the human balance."

Brown trained for three years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where he participated in many Shakespearean workouts.
"A good drama school training gives you the solid foundation, and every professional play you do after that, you learn more as you go along," said Brown, who, along with the rest of the cast, has been rehearsing the past five weeks, including rigorous fight scenes.

"Our choreographer, Vanessa [Passini], has been putting us all through our paces with sword drills," Brown said. "Hopefully, fingers crossed, the sword fighting will look quite cool."

Though Brown and his wife, Emily, plan to move back to New York at the end of the summer, he is still looking forward to CenterStage opening.
"Hopefully, once it's established, it's the kind of thing that breeds more art, essentially," he said.

But for the next couple of weeks, the only art Brown will be concentrating on his nightly portrayal of Henry.

"James [Bond, the director] says that Shakespeare is the most muscular form of theater," Brown said. "It kind of forces you to use your technique more than anything else. I believe if you can do Shakespeare well, you can do anything well."