- Henry the Fifth (Traditional Cast), and: Henry the Fifth (Female Cast)
Nebraska Wesleyan University simultaneously produced two versions of Henry V. In the traditional cast production, male actors were cast for male characters and female actors for female characters; the female production used only female actors for all roles, without switching the gender of the characters. These productions raised a number of interesting questions about the play. How much of the play’s energy rests in questions of male aggression? Do our assumptions about gender inform how we understand the actions of the play? How much back-story of Falstaff and Henry IV do we need to make comprehensible the events of Henry V? The two productions I discuss here used the same director, the same text, and the same set. But only one actor played in both productions—Riley Scott, a young female actor who played the Boy. These unusual circumstances allowed for a comparison of elements of these productions that might otherwise not be possible.
The traditional-cast production used period-style costumes: light blue for the French and red and dark blue for the English. The soldiers wore tunics and occasionally, in battle, mail. Nym, Pistol, and Bardolph were dressed in tattered clothing of various shades of brown and tan. Generally, this costuming worked well. It easily delineated the forces and made clear the roles of various characters; the Archbishop of Canterbury’s red robes and headgear were unmistakable. In the female cast production, the costumes connected closely with an idea of the action taking place [End Page 619] in a future where female rulers and battle leaders were the norm. These futuristic battle costumes still maintained the differences between the forces (and used the same basic color scheme), and they included makeup and hair design that was both colorful and futuristic. The female production used, instead of steel swords, lightsabers. The lightsabers were a bit disconcerting at the beginning of the performance since they also made zinging sounds as they were swiped through the air. These sound effects dwindled after the first act, although the warning hiss of near-unsheathing made itself heard again when the traitors threatened to draw in act two.
Each production used a single actor as the Chorus, who entered with a staff to pound the darkened stage for the audience’s attention. These two actors were dressed similarly: the...