June 18, 2016
Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s less-performed histories of a monarch’s life. And for good reason; it’s a little hard to understand.
This performance of Henry V at Regents Park Open Air Theatre left me confused and nodding off, but not entirely to the fault of the script. There are many difficulties to consider when presenting a play outside:
The first is temperature. Even though is was a June evening and the day’s temperature had been near 80 degrees, the London nights get very cool. By the end of the three-hour run time, it was probably near 45 degrees or cooler. I was well prepared for the cold, though, and had a fleece jacket and my heavy fleece blanket with me. I was actually quite warm and cozy, and as a result, found myself nodding off, especially during the first act when there was a lack of action scenes. If you were doing an open air production in Dallas in the summer, you may lose half your audience at intermission. Ain’t nobody wanna deal with that heat. Probably best not to attempt open air performances in Dallas.
The second is noise and sound. Noise is unwanted. Sound is designed. There was many times throughout the play when a pesky bird didn’t want to keep quiet, or a far off police siren interrupted a well rehearsed speech. But even without these distractions I might have had a hard time hearing some of the actors on stage. The sound seemed to be turned down very low. This may have been a choice on the part of the designer in order to make the play feel more natural in the natural setting, but I would have appreciated a few more volume ticks up. Also, this was a preview show (a show that is open to the public before the run’s official start date. In a preview show some design elements may still be subject to change. The purpose is to get a feel for the audience’s perception of the piece while the director is still in-house.) so I realize that they may still have been tweaking the sound. The only time that I was really made aware that this was a preview show was when the lighting would change without warning or warrant. There were several times when Henry was giving a speech and the lighting would change in the middle of the most mundane lines.
Third, environment. Keeping in mind that the natural environment around you is a great thing that should be utilized, how should you design the show? I thought this production did a fantastic job of incorporating the natural elements around them. I imagine that it was staged in a similar way as they might have done it in Shakepeare’s time, with minimal to no set, and performed in any place that was available for playing, nothing fancy. The open air served well to enhance the reality of the battle scenes, and trees were used to mark the barriers between back stage and front stage.
Overall, I am thankful for the wonderful experience of watching a play in the open air, I just wish i could have been viewing something a little more entertaining.