For Driftwood Theatre’s Bard’s Bus Tour production of King Henry Five, writer/directory D. Jeremy Smith’s adaptation combines highlights from three of Shakespeare’s history plays—Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2) and Henry V. He narrows the scope of the action to Hal’s journey from carefree youth to England’s warrior king uniting England and France.
Hal’s father, King Henry IV, is frustrated by his son’s lack of ambition—getting drunk and playing pranks with his tavern buddies, most prominently the boastful, crowd-pleasing Falstaff. He promises to make his father proud, eventually disowning his former friends when he adopts the crown and leads a his small army to victory in the battle of Agincourt.
The details of the story are abandoned in favour of interstitial songs that comment on the core themes. With lyrics by Germaine Konji and music by Konji and Kelsi James, these musical interludes examine legacy and the awful burden of kingship. Specifically, they frame Harry’s achievements as grand yet ultimately hollow and conformist.
Hal, genuinely thoughtful and compassionate, must be brutal and ruthless to achieve his ends and his internal struggle is significant. With so much of the plot stripped away, his transformation is thrown into relief. Ben Yoganathan is modest in the role and conveys, with striking authenticity, this arc from wayward rascal to determined monarch.
Hume Baugh’s blustering Falstaff is another highlight. The moment he realizes he has lost a friend to kingly duty is truly heartbreaking. As both the feisty, put-upon barkeep, Master Quickly, and Hal’s father, Henry IV, Richard Alan Campbell is consistently compelling. Ximena Huiza (Poins/Hotspur) and Rosalie Tremblay (Catherine/Bardolph) complete the ensemble.
Julia Kim’s rustic set suggests a local bar in which much of the action occurs. The production grounds us in this intimate, contemporary space, though it doesn’t really sell the pageantry of royal court or the urgency of battle. The overall vibes, however, are enough to pull you through. There is also some lovely work done with a wooden puppet portraying a variety of soldiers and page boys.
This outdoor touring production has a quaint, rough-hewn charm. A reproving, mournful quality resonates throughout, inviting us into Hal/Henry’s story, but yearning for less combative modes of leadership than we’ve seen play out across millennia.