This series of reviews will look at ‘Globe to Globe’ productions, an extraordinary effort by London’s Globe Theatre to stage every Shakespeare play in a foreign language.
A Balkan-themed Henry VI trilogy opens with a strong performance from National Theatre Belgrade in Henry VI--Part I (read a review of Part II here). The production is gritty, earthy and stripped of the romance that the text holds dear.
At first glance, Serbian is an apt language in which to perform one of the Bards most martial plays. The harsh tones, sense of urgency in the actors as well as the country's bloody and troubled recent history create a tense and militant atmosphere. It is a brave choice for director Nikita Milivojevic to engage openly with his country’s role in the conflicts, and he does so with skill and grace without seeming overly apologetic or revisionist. Even though the English are united against the resurgent France, which is starting to unite under Joan of Arc, Milivojevic makes much of the factionalism in Henry’s army. The feuding houses are shamelessly used as prisms in which to view Serbia and its troubled relationship with its neighbours, and the director makes it very clear the feuding is ultimately pointless, hindering the collective English efforts in the war.
In a strong ensemble cast, the professionalism and skill of the actors shines through. Hadzi Nenad Marićić plays the title role with regal authority, and gives the sense of someone who is contending with as many problems in his court as on the foreign battlefield. Jelena Dulvezan, as Joan of Arc, is rightly unsure and nervous at the start, but she remains like this throughout the production, when she could have done more to be stronger, looking and sounding more like a leader as the play goes on.
Scene changes are fluent and the props and costumes are amongst the best in the series. This is tough considering the sheer amount of choreography required to manage the frequent battles, duels and fighting between very similar characters. Much of the fighting occurs in slow motion, though at times it is too slow and loses some of the excitement. The classical and medieval costumes are fantastic, with designer Marina Medenica clearly defining French from English and Lancastrian from York. The round table is the most significant bit of staging, and the table sees much fist banging until it is eventually carved up, much like the former Yugoslavia it clearly represents.
It is interesting to see a production in this series that moves away from adding humour into the mix to engage with the audience. Light comic relief is provided with Pavle Jerinić and Bojan Krivokapić as two brilliant messengers running and collapsing on stage, and there is a hilarious attempt to spill the ashes of Henry V. However, the close of the play is done with angst and uncertainty. There is no real sense of closure, as the cast anxiously awaits what is to happen next.