- Henry Vby the Saitama Arts Theater
Under the auspices of its late artistic director Ninagawa Yukio, the Saitama Arts Theater strove to produce the complete plays of Shakespeare and achieved generally solid, if sometimes mixed, results. Unfortunately, Ninagawa passed away in 2016, having directed thirty-two of Shakespeare's plays while leaving the relatively unpopular or difficult works unproduced. Yoshida Kotaro, one of Ninagawa's favorite leading actors, took over the responsibility for Saitama's Shakespeare series. He directed Timon of Athensas his first project in 2017, which was well received and regarded as a promising start for the new artistic director's tenure. Yoshida's second project was Henry V, the thirty-fourth production of the series. Matsuzaka Tori returned as Henry V, six years after he played Prince Hal in Ninagawa's Henry IV. The director himself played the Chorus.
Henry Vhas never been popular in Japan and is rarely performed, but the 2018–2019 season was a rare occasion for Japanese theatergoers to enjoy two high-profile Henry Vproductions in the Greater Tokyo Area. The New National Theatre in Tokyo produced Henry Vfrom May 17 to June 3, 2018, directed by Uyama Hitoshi and starring Urai Kenji, a popular young stage actor, as Henry V. The same team had already successfully staged Henry VIin 2009, Richard IIIin 2012, and Henry IVin 2016; critics praised Henry Vfor its brutal portrayal of conflict, war, and sexual politics. Saitama's Henry Vwas under pressure to stand out against its predecessor.
The result was, to say the least, very disappointing. Akiyama Mitsuhiro's medieval-style set was elaborate, although it could not escape the visual influence of Uyama's production, with both adopting partly dilapidated wooden scaffolds and frames scattered across the stage. Akiyama's set was brown in tone, and it matched Miyamoto Nobuko's medieval costumes with a hint of modern flair; most actors wore black and grey, while the capes of bright colors, such as red and blue, stood out. In the [End Page 444]first half, Yoshida's production looked somewhat duller than Uyama's spectacular setting, which had used wood and water abundantly. In the last half of Yoshida's Henry V, however, a watchtower occupying the center stage was moved and the space was more freely and dynamically used. The whole stage looked like a theatrical version of Saving Private Ryan.
However, the production's issues were primarily grounded not in the set but in the severe cutting of the text, which resulted in an unintentionally incoherent play. Most strikingly, although the production visually recalled Saving Private Ryanand its spiritual sequel Band of Brothers, Henry's famous "St Crispin's Day" speech was almost entirely cut, keeping only a few lines including "he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother" (4.3.61–62); the production had no mention of St Crispin's Day, "band of brothers," or "we happy few" (4.3.60) at all. I have never seen—or even remotely imagined—a Henry Vproduction without the St Crispin's Day speech, perhaps the play's single most iconic moment, and surely a draw for any actor of the role. Ironically, in watching this bold attempt to produce the play without it, the importance of the speech became apparent. This speech is so essential to the character development of Henry V and so closely connected to the entire structure that the play could be incoherent without it.
Matsuzaka Tori, a popular and critically acclaimed young actor, played Henry V as a gloomy, broody, and anxiety-ridden young man struggling to survive as an...