Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V - two great plays and one that’s a bit of a stinker. But take all three History plays and roll them into one and surely you have a masterpiece? This is what Muse Of Fire sets out to achieve, boiling twelve hours of Shakespearean text into just ninety minutes. It partly succeeds, although at times the text is spoken so quickly that it feels like all twelve hours’ worth of lines have been left in.
The concept is great, the energy strong, the story engaging and the actors wholehearted
This reduced version is presented to us by Utah’s Liahona Preparatory Academy, named for an artefact in the Book of Mormon. Liahona is a small independent school that prioritises theatre within its extra curricular school life. Its high school comprises sixty five students, eighteen of whom have joined this cast and crew.
Shakespeare’s Henry's tell the story of Hal’s emergence into kingship, how his exploits amidst the rogues of London’s Eastcheap and his dealings with plump Jack Falstaff deliver a training that culminates in an historic victory at Agincourt in 1415. The heart of this story is Hal’s early relationship with Falstaff, a plump rogue who acts as tutor to Harry’s early riots. The performance is less convincing at telling this part of the story and this is frustrating, with some of the wonderful comic scenes between the two falling flat. Young actors performing Shakespeare need to understand what they are saying and then help their audience to understand it too. This doesn’t happen in these critical and fun-filled early scenes. It's a shame as Falstaffian moments are not just hilarious but provide incredible lines to explore. At one stage, Falstaff points to his soldiers and says “they’ll fill a pit as well as any man”. What a line to give a young American actor in 2022 but it is lost. There is no doubt that Bo Chester grows in stature as her Hal becomes King Henry V but more could be done to root the King’s successes in his early life lessons.
That being said, there is plenty to enjoy here. I cannot take your eyes off Kaelynn Bybee, whether she be marching briskly about the stage in faux leather pants, playing Henry “Now I’ve got TWO swords” Percy as the right little madam he is, or slung over someone’s shoulder with floppy arms, or as a demure French legate. She talks a lot from her eyes. Barak David is commanding both as the King and the Dauphin, the latter with an outrageous French accent straight out of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. And with what grace and poise Alaina Hall (Mistress Quickley) glides across the stage and speaks. The sword fighting steals the show, although it is satisfying to see there is still a place for a well timed kick to the leg.
This particular space offers a company incredible versatility, with a choice between in-the-round or thrust staging. The company opt for thrust but behave at times as if they are performing in the round, uncertain where to point themselves. Actors spend much of the production half on the stage and half on the surrounding carpet – it would be nice to see them centre their performances on the allocated stage for a three sided audience.
All that being said, the concept is great, the energy strong, the story engaging and the actors wholehearted. And the words take your breath away.