I am preparing to direct Henry V in 2010 and would love to get some feedback (positive & critical) for the concept I am pursuing.
SETTING: The venue is a small, 100 seater, in-the-round and past it's glory days. I am working with a very limited lighting and sound set-up but importantly have the opportunity of a very intimate space to the work with the audiance. I am planning to set it as a early 17th centuary simplified representation of 1415. I will be taking the chorus at his word that our little woodern O and few ragged foils will need much imagination to recreate the actual scene. This will be an 'actors' play utilising limited props and staging. I have access to some talented actors which will be a crucial component for success in this approach. Design will be created with the obvious understanding of the audience that we are making a little work cleaverly. Obvious doubling of actors will be used (the cast is down to 16-17) and I want the ability of the actors to do this to be part of the enjoyment of the night. I will be using key times for actors to act forward and directly address the audience. I will be attempting to present a very complex, character-focused and challenging production involving a lead that alternates between hero and villian.
KEY THEMES I will be looking to focus on the complex and shifting sands of emotions toward war. The historical theme of the famous battle of Agincourt provides the storyline and structure to this play. From a historical perspective it is a key battle and subject of much interest and study. Without doubt, personal attitudes to warfare have changed from 1415 (the battle), 1599 (writing of Henry V) and today, particularly the linkage of personal honour and social advancement. These two themes are so tightly bound to the description of war in this play and this reason is the basis for me to set the play as 1415. At that time it was a great honour to serve the King and the opportunity for personal wealth and advancement was high. There is an amazing collection of nationalistic, stirring speeches from the Chorus, King Henry, his Lords and French Princes to this effect. However the human cost is unavoidable and for every rousing speech there are as many examples of very real pains felt at the turn of events (King Charles of France remembers earlier invasions, King Henry & Exeter their pains at lives lost, the personal journey of Gower and the wonderful speech from Burgundy in the final scene describing the aftermath of the battle). All of this is tainted by the direct interference of the Church at the commencement of the play. My objective of this play is to paint a complex picture of mixed and changing emotions that perhaps can challenge people as they digest the play. It becomes hard to recognise the nobility of the leaders when the cost of action is so high, and gains quickly lost, but at the same time it is difficult not to admire the brave and committed actions of the players. It is for each individual member of the audience to decide what is right and wrong in this story, and our role to challenge. Henry will be played by a dedicated actor and will remain distant from the audiance. The key personality trait of his that I want to explore is the nature of a bully. Henry V is a complex character, both in this play as well as history. In his youth a criminal vagrant who suddenly assumes traits of a valiant and inspired warrior King at the death of his father. In this play he is certainly an amazing orator of his time, inspiring nobles and commons alike. Did he believe the words he spoke or did he speak the words he knew moved people? Was he a strong leader or was he easily manipulated by others? Morelike he was all of the above at different times. There is one character trait that I will focus on as a central pillar to Henry; he had the nature of a bully. He would frequently endeavour to get his own way through honest means but when challenged, the nature of a bully comes out. Note his eagerness to attribute the blame of consequence of his actions to the Church, Dauphin, King Charles and the Governor of Harfleur. He is a charismatic but serious young man and although blessed with a common touch, a loner. I anticipate people’s feelings for this character to regularly shift from positive to negative and back and forth again.
CASTING: There will needs be alot of doubling. To begin the play, the chorus will step forward into an empty stage and speak directly to the audience - initially showing-off with their best 1940's 'correct shakesphearean' over-dramitic presentation, until the lines "But pardon, gentles all..." where they drop the acting and become the friendly guide of the audience. I will need an instant connection to form between the viewers and the Chorus. With the entry of Canterbury, the Chorus will change onstage to become Ely. Subsequent to this the Chorus will also perform the roles of King Charles and Erphingham. Each chorus speach will drop the acting and speak directly and helpfully to the audience. Of the remaining actors, approx 50% will be obviously doubled.
KEY SCENES: In keeping with the enjoyment of a play certain scenes will become a focus for high-points of the evening. Pending casting these are likely to be revised but at this stage my key target scenes include; Act 2, Scene 1: After the seriousness of business so far this is the first introduction of the bawdy and comical characters. Bawdy roles exist for Mistress Quickly, Pistol, Bardolph and Nim and their introduction at this critical time is an important change of pace. Act 2, Scene 2: Returning to serious business after the first wave of farce we see the mixture of power and personal hurt in Henry as he entraps confronts and condemns the traitors. A touching demonstration of hurt surrounding the ‘why so didst thou?’ demands. Henry’s personal hurt here is to be very accessible to the audience. Act 3, Scene 3: The power of Henry’s bullying is directed to the audience here. They will, for the purpose of this scene, assume the role of the population on the walls of Harfleur (the Governor will be a voice behind them) and Henry will be acting forward, directing his horrid threats at them. This is a scene designed to make people uncomfortable, quickly tempered by his instant humility after the city is surrendered. Act 4, Scene 1: The King with the ‘common touch’ finds his talent is out of kilter here. His disguised interactions with his army cause him more distress than comfort and present a wonderful opportunity for personal reflection in Henry. Act 5, Scene 2: There are some wonderful moments in this final scene, both positive and negative. King Charles is a broken man and Burgundy paints a perfect picture of the longer term ruin of France after the battle of Agincourt. I will not be painting this as a romantic conclusion, Kate is a key demand of Henry and he has no intention of leaving without her – this is not romance and we will see the bully emerge again here, further challenging how we feel about this man after recent ‘positive’ moments from him.
SOURCES & TEXT: To me there are two truths when it comes to Shakespeare, we will never know the ‘real’ scripts of his plays and as a historian, he makes a great writer of fiction. The text of this production is drawn largely from the First Folio with some inserts from the various Quarto’s available. My understanding is that Henry V is regarded as one of the least reliable scripts in the first folio and my personal view is that while some Quarto’s are bad rip-off’s of the play, others are a viable record of alternate interpretations and edits of the script. Although historical accuracy was not something Shakespeare would ever let get in the way of a good story I have made a point to reference most significant edits to the ever improving historical texts of Agincourt. An example of this is using text from a quarto replacing the Dauphin with Bourbon at Agincourt. Overall the text is approximately 85% aligned with the first folio. Aside from alterations to suit character doubling the key deletion is the scene where Pistol captures a French soldier as this does not add value to my production and runs counter to the pace of previous and following scenes.
PROBLEMS: I am still trying to get a clear image in my mind to explain the reactions of Henry immediately post the battle to pursue entertainment through the challenge of the gloves, moving then quickly back to lamenting of the dead. Any ideas on interpreting this would be most valuable.
Thank-you in advance for any ideas and feedback. Previous postings on production and performance have proved extremely helpful so please excuse me returning the well another time.
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