Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor will present “Henry V” on Sunday, January 15th at 2:00 p.m. The performance was captured live from the Donmar Warehouse in London in April 2022, and the production is a vivid contemporary adaptation set to modern dress. This presentation of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” is filled with iconic speeches, spectacular performances, and mesmerizing military action.
Allen O’Reilly, Bay Street’s Director of Education and Community Outreach, was part of a Shakespeare-centric theater company in Atlanta, GA for 29 years as an associate artist and director of education. He brought a piece of their mission—not to mention his unmatched knowledge—with him to Bay Street to “reinvigorate the classics,” as he says. Allen has, himself, directed and acted at Bay Street over the years, and Shakespeare is just one of those who he is passionate about. He spoke about his experience with “Henry V” and what those in attendance can expect of the live presentation.
Allen noted that “Henry V” is Shakespeare’s most popular “History Play.” He says, “Most Shakespeare companies have produced it several times. The language and themes are very accessible and always timely because the play deals with the fitness and capabilities of our leaders. It has also been helped by two splendid screen adaptations: Laurence Olivier’s in 1944, and Kenneth Branaugh’s in 1989.”
The National Theatre Production being presented at Bay Street features Game of Thrones star, Kit Harington, with a thrilling contemporary approach and a diverse cast. Allen says, “It has a great ‘modern’ appeal and will resonate with younger audiences, which is a challenging demographic for most theatres.”
Bay Street decided on their presentation of “Henry V” because the play aligns with Bay Street’s current collaboration with The Metropolitan Opera and The National Theatre in London. Allen also noted that the play itself is highly accessible in terms of themes and language. It features some of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare that will be familiar to many in the audience.
The work of Shakespeare is no stranger to Bay Street. In the past, they have presented Macbeth, As You Like It, and outdoor productions at Mashashimuet Park of Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. During Covid, they even did two small public Shakespeare readings at a supporter’s home, as well as in Sag Harbor.
This particular production of “Henry V” features a smaller cast as well as diverse casting, which Allen says is not unusual in a contemporary production, but, he mentions, “one interesting note in this production is The Chorus character who is the narrative bridge between the action on stage is played by a Singaporean female actress, Milicent Wong. This role is usually assigned to a male, like Derek Jacobi the great British actor, who played it in Branaugh’s version. The presentation itself is very intimate and not the least bit ‘stagey’ as is the case with so many productions of Shakespeare past or present. It will be highly accessible and has a youthful vitality to it which is very appealing.”
The production was highly successful when live in London in April 2022. Audiences can expect a fresh, surprising, and contemporary “take.” Allen says, “Very few Shakespeare productions and companies these days set the plays in The Elizabethan Era when Shakespeare wrote. Shakespeare’s plays are not ‘museum pieces,’ the themes and psychology resonate today. This production of ‘Henry V’ is a prime example of the contemporary Shakespeare production: Modern dress, diverse casting choices, and smaller casts, but not a word of text is changed or adapted. The acting style will be very ‘real’ as in film and ‘un-Shakespearean,’ but lots of close-ups that will allow audience members intimate access into the character’s inner thoughts and psychology.”
Allen says that he believes this production will be startling and ultimately satisfying for the audience at Bay Street to see Shakespeare made this accessible. He can’t wait to be a part of the audience, saying he’s looking forward to “hearing the audiences, leaning in, responding, gasping, laughing, and really getting the story and the themes of this old play in a new and richer way.” His favorite aspect of the play is The Chorus speeches’: “O For a Muse of fire,” “Now entertain conjecture of a Time,” and one of his all-time favorites is Henry’s “Once more unto the breach dear friends, Once more” speech.
“Henry V” is a tremendous work of theatre, one of Shakespeare’s best, and it has been made accessible in a way that will resonate with a contemporary audience, especially with its political themes.
Allen concluded by saying, “I love that Bay Street is presenting these ‘classics’ in partnership with London’s National Theatre with this highly accessible version of ‘Henry V’ and soon Chekhov’s masterpiece, ‘The Seagull’. Our audiences get to see the greatest actors in the world with this type of material, for a nominal fee at Bay Street!”
To learn more and purchase tickets for National Theatre Live Presents “Henry V” at Bay Street this Sunday, January 15th, visit www.baystreet.org.