This is the second part of Graham Abbey ‘s Breath of Kings. It has a life of its own but is more fun to watch in order.
Abbey has the play starting with whispers and a parade of former characters; and Richard II in his golden robe but without the crown he gave to Bolingbroke/Henry introduces us to the play. The floor is bare and barren, an intricate but dead puzzle of marvel and someone is breaking out a big piece in the form of a small coffin, his strenuous tries in perfect synch with the tock-tock of king Henry’s staff. Because Henry never recovered from the wound he received in battle. Now, death imminent, he feels the burden of the crown, and the sins he committed while wearing it are weighing him down. Even more so as his son is still galavanting around with Sir John Falstaff.
It is a joy to watch young Hal (Araya Mengesha) turn from obnoxious teenage brat rebelling against authorities in the first part to young hero and finally king Henry V in the span of two plays. Reconciled with his father on the deathbed he takes on the crown, the only outward change being the dreadlocks giving way to a tightly woven hairdo. This and the way he treats Falstaff – sending him away and ultimately killing him with his decision – is the first sign of growing up.
In battle he and his comrades forge a union strong enough to take on France . And amongst his men there are the same actors who played Henry and Falstaff (Geraint Wyn Davies hilarious and insightful and wise as the Welsh commander) and it is as if all ancestors had assembled to fight the battle of Agincourt.
Again the floor does play his part in this production. The more Britain and later France is war torn and in battle, the more pieces of the floor get ripped out, revealing the bloodied soil of the homeland in the form of red wood chips. And when Henry finally meets Catherine of France,his intended wife, he has to climb over the disrupted pieces in order to get to her.
Of course the important speeches of Henry V are kept, and his passionate rousing “we lucky few, we band of brothers” gave me goosebumps. Also historically correct a scene where they kneel with British longbows and shoot and the air is whirring with the sound of arrows – brilliantly executed. (Add.: The French lost over 10.000 nobles and soldiers because of the force with which the arrows pierced armour. The English lost three nobles and “five and twenty”)
To follow both parts of Breath of Kings means you follow three generations of Kings, their lives and their influence on both Britain and France, both Wales and Scotland in a gorgeous arc of history. Add to that great actors down to the smallest parts, and you got must see theatre at its finest. The whole cast is outstanding; but magnificent in their portrayal were of course Tom Rooney, Graham Abbey, Geraint Wyn Davies and Araya Mengesha. These four shine – and special kudos to Graham Abbey who not only wrote and birthed the plays but also directed the second part, redemption, and lent life to the uneasy, hesitant king Henry IV.
Oh and btw: they’re all incredibly friendly, nice and sweet at the stage door. You just have to be really fast to catch Geraint – he’s out and about in a minute. 😉 Also don’t make my mistake and bring chocolate for Graham – he needs to maintain his lean and fabulous six-pack for the rest of the season (remember, he’s shirtless for a few moments in part one:) )