Once More into the Trapeze, Dear Friends

Staging technologies can be integrated so as to seem, if not inevitable, at least natural. I think of the 2004 Danish movie Strings, performed by marionettes, as a particularly moving example.  Well, last weekend I got to see Henry V (on Trapeze) at Burning Coal Theatre in Raleigh, NC.

To say that nothing really prepared me for it means that despite hearing about it ahead of time from artistic director Jerry Davis, and even after watching their video trailer, I assumed the trapeze would be a gimmick rather than an organic part of the production. Certainly including it in the title suggested that we were meant to come to some kind of Cirque du Soleil in which Shakespeare was likely to take a back seat; I was even afraid they would write some iambic pentameter of their own expressly alluding to the hardware.

Anyway, Director Steven Cole Hughes pulled this off in Raleigh pretty well. The five trapezes (what, in that little space?) are virtually the only set, and they become walls, battlements, thrones (of course), scaffolds, weapons, and I forget what all. They allow the actors to use the vertical space of the theater in a wholly different way–the highest bits being reserved for the moments of highest drama–and of course to move swiftly, capturing some of the rapid confusion of warfare; and to deploy their bodies in unexpected ways to disconcertingly good effect, as when characters are executed and dangle upside down.

Few lines are actually delivered upside down, but I rather like the idea.

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