Burning Coal, in collaboration with Fight or Flight Theater, presents Shakespeare's Henry V (on Trapeze) in downtown Raleigh, at the Murphey School. Fight or Flight Theater is a NYC-based aerial theater company that explores work on low-flying trapezes. Directed by Steven Cole Hughes, the production is an adaptation of Shakespeare unlike any other in the area.
Shakespeare's Henry V begins with young Henry taking the English throne after his father's death. When Henry announces a claim upon parts of France, the French prince mocks Henry; the young English king declares war and invades France. With the famous Battle of Agincourt, the play climaxes as the English defeat the French - against all odds. With the enormous victory, Henry wishes to unite with French princess, Katherine. Their marriage then leads to the union of England and France.
In the production with Burning Coal and Fight or Flight, the trapezes are utilized to reach higher stakes and create spectacular scenes although, with only eight actors doubling and tripling roles, the characters are not very clear in the beginning acts. By the end of the first half, however, I was beginning to understand the plot. The introduction of the French army with song and dance on trapeze initially threw me off - it felt out of place for the actors suddenly to be singing. Once the story continued to develop, though, it became a clear distinction between the French and the English. Furthermore, the actors changing their ties from light blue for the French back to red for the English makes the story much clearer.
The opening scene with flashing lights, loud music, and actor ad-libs set the story in a different place than traditional Shakespeare (though the five hanging trapezes are already a good tip-off). While the adapted script is to be expected, the director's choice for the side-conversations and ad-libs during early trapeze changes makes it feel like the actors are only talking to fill the space. Mirroring the alternative style, costume designer Karen Morgan Williams has actors dressed in jeans or black leggings with sleeveless shirts and sweatshirts in a sort of punk fashion. The sound design, by Jessica Jackson, hits the mark perfectly with its fusion of techno and rock. The lighting, by Chris Popowich, also beautifully sets the story, along with the creative staging by the director and the use of the trapezes as set pieces. The trapezes work as the ultimate tool – they are set pieces, of course, but then they are also ways of amplifying characters' actions, too.
The battle scenes on trapeze provide a unique experience and certainly capture your attention. The meeting of Katherine and Henry, played by Eileen Little and Daniel Loeser, respectively, is a joy to watch. Henry V has drama, comedy, romance, and history all wrapped up into one – and with soaring performances. Whether you're a Shakespeare lover or not, Henry V (on Trapeze) is a delight and is definitely not your average show!
The show continues through December 18. For details, see the sidebar.