Saturday, November 01, 2008

Lazy Saturday: Fantasy Football Shakespeare, the Henry IV Edition

I recently reconnected with an old friend on Facebook, and last night had a great online discussion. Jan Weir is a friend from back in the Western days, and we know each other through the theatre scene there—first being in a production of Measure for Measure together, and then playing key roles in the first two plays I directed, Richard in Richard III and the Player in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Jan is an extraordinary actor who pays extraordinary attention to detail, is never satisfied with his performance and tends a little toward the method school. Which makes him a serious pain in the ass to direct, but capable of transcendent moments.

At any rate, our discussion yesterday made me nostalgic for my forays into directing at Western, and reminded me that it has been five years since last I wore that particular hat—Macbeth in autumn of 2003.

I had submitted a proposal for the UWO English Department’s annual outdoor Summer Shakespeare for 2005, in the hopes of having a nice swan song with which to round out my final summer in London before moving to the Rock. Alas, it was not to be: the drama committee decided to go with Twelfth Night, on the basis that it would be a more “summery” play than my own pick.

That still smarts a little. My pick? I wanted to take a page from the divine Orson’s playbook and condense both parts of Henry IV into a single two and a half hour production. Welles did this is his extraordinary film Chimes at Midnight, and while there would be a certain temptation to make this production an homage to The Man Himself—right down to using his screenplay—I had some other ideas. Namely, I wanted to make this a play about the writing of history, about what makes it into the books and what does not. The character of Falstaff, who is arguably one of the most brilliant of Shakespeare’s creations, was something he created whole cloth ... the “court” scenes of the play all more or less follow the historical record as put down by Raphael Holinshed, but the scenes at the tavern, where young Prince Hal indulges in a sentimental education of debauchery and crime, are entirely fabricated.

The play would be performed in a galley stage, with the court scenes unfolding at one end (where the throne is) and the tavern scenes at the other. Center stage will be a lectern with a large folio on it. The actors will have minimal costuming: they will all wear basically the same nondescript base outfit, and add to it pieces of costuming that will signify their characters (hats, swords, cloaks, etc.). There will be some doubling of characters, but this will be done in a self-conscious manner. In fact, much of the show, from the costuming perspective at least, will be very meta. We’re not looking for naturalism or verisimilitude here.

This version of the play introduces a new character: Raphael Holinshed, the historian, who will at intervals read the relevant sections from his history (which is of course the handsome folio sitting on the lectern center stage). In the second act, which is the second part of Henry IV, his role as voice of authority is contested by “Rumour,” an allegorical figure in the original play.

Given that this is a time of year given over to such pursuits as fantasy football leagues, I thought I’d offer the latte-sucking, chardonnay-swilling liberal elite version: Fantasy Shakespeare! I will not however (at least not for this one) draw my dream cast from the ranks of Hollywood or the RSC, but from the ranks of those I have worked with in the past. Hence, this blog post will mean a great deal to certain people, and next to nothing to those I’ve never met. Consider it my homage to the extraordinary people I’ve had the good fortune to work with over the years.



Raphael Holinshed: Jeremy Worth
Jer’s really the first and last choice for this role, and I had been planning to do everything necessary to get him to play it had the drama committee opted for my proposal. Kidnapping, bribery, blackmail: the slight man with the megaton North London timbre in his voice, who was a haunting and tragic Clarence for me in Richard III was going to play this role come hell or high water.

King Henry IV: Allan Pero
Allan is a professor in UWO’s English department, and not someone I’d had the good fortune to work with. He is however quite possibly the most dramatic professor I know, known to burst into song at times during lectures. Another one of the original casting choices for this play.

Prince Hal: Jan Weir
First we take the crown, and then we take Agincourt: I’d pretty much have to do Henry V after giving Jan a taste of Shakespeare’s lovely truant prince.

Sir Walter Blunt: Shaun Campbell
Shaun played a Blunt for me in Richard III—typecasting? Not at all. Except that he’s a good fellow to have around when you need someone who can play a character with the strong silent type thing.


Earl of Northumberland: Ed King
Would that Ed could have been my Macbeth, but by that point he was in the four winds. Ed played Buckingham in Richard III, bringing a slick and oily charm to the role of Richard’s fixer. Someone I have unfortunately lost touch with—should you happen across this blog post, Ed, drop me an email.

Hotspur: Sean Mulligan
I love the character of Hotspur: he is such a fantastic parody of the Marlovian hero, especially in his first speech where he describes in hyperbolic terms his duel with the Welsh Glendower. I would have one direction for Sean: Hotspur is a Klingon—go. Sean went from being the Lord Mayor in Richard III to Claudius in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to Banquo in Macbeth (oh, and I think he might have played some roles in plays I didn’t direct). He is also a fight choreographer par excellence, and would be given free reign over the battle sequences.

Lady Percy: Caitlin Murphy
I’ve never directed Caitlin, but have seen her act on numerous occasions. An exceptionally talented actor and writer. Also, a very good friend I don’t talk to nearly enough.

Edmund Mortimer: Holm Bradwell
Actor-wise, Holm has been one of my constants: Rivers in Richard III, Hamlet in R&G, Snobby Price in Major Barbara, and MacDuff in Macbeth. I took a chance on him for Rivers because he had a lovely, handsome insouciance, and have never been disappointed all the way along.

Worcester: Gregg Taylor
A good friend I first met while playing a tiny role in Julius Caesar, Gregg is an exceptionally talent writer, actor and director ... as evidenced by his two ongoing radio-show series from his company Decoder Ring Theatre. Seriously: check them out. Anyway, given the logistics of geography, it is highly unlikely that I’ll ever have a chance to direct Gregg in anything ... and that makes me sad. I do hope one day to visit the Decoder Ring Mansion and reprise my role as Father Mike in The Adventures of the Red Panda.

Owen Glendower: Mike McIntyre
Mike was Ratcliff in Richard III and Lennox in Macbeth ... and in the latter case, I kick myself for not trusting him with the title role, dammit. Mike is a dream to work with: thoughtful (in every sense of the word), intelligent, and about the best physical actor I’ve ever worked with. The man moves like a frickin’ cat in fight scenes. A great actor when it comes to minutiae: during rehearsals for Macbeth, he became the model for the rest of the cast for how to wear your kilt. Seriously.

The Douglas: Scott Brubacher
A fine actor, frighteningly talented composer and all around lovely fellow, Scott played Angus in Macbeth as a serious and dignified druid. We’ll give him more warlike chops in this go around.


Falstaff: Serge Saika-Voivod
Also someone I was plotting by nefarious means to get into this role. Serge masterfully played the amoral arms manufacturer Andrew Undershaft for me in Major Barbara in fall 2002; he was, like Jer, the first and last choice for me on this one.

Mistress Quickly: Jo Devereux
Gertrude in R&G, and a magnificent turn as Lady Macbeth make me happy to have Jo in any play I do ... though I still haven’t quite forgiven her for passing on playing Lady Britomart for me in Major Barbara.

Doll Tearsheet: Brandy Ryan
Brandy played the assassin Tyrell in Richard III -- played her as a beautiful, deadly, and cold (though not too cold, as the murder of the prince showed) femme fatale. Still one of my favourite roles in plays I've directed.

Bardolph: Deane Billington-Whitely
Along with Holm, Deane has been one of my actorly constants: Henry VI in Richard III, Rosencrantz in R&G, Adolphus in Major Barbara, and the Porter in Macbeth. A shame we’ll have to hang him when we do Henry V.

Poins: Andrew Patterson
Andrew was my Polonius in R&G, and is besides that one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Put him and Deane together in a room, add beer, and you’ll never need cable TV again. The world waits with bated breath for him to finish writing A-Team: The Musical.

Peto: Jordan Matteis
Add Jordan to the above mix, and we’re off to the races. This is my “Tavern Dream Team” right here. Jordan was Laertes for me in R & G, and obligingly took on a very small role in Major Barbara when I should have trusted him with one of the leads. I made up for that a little by making him Malcolm in Macbeth, a role he played beautifully.

Gadshill: Ian Brooks
Ian has been masterful for me twice: first as a very inexperienced and hapless Richmond in Richard III, and then as a chilling and dangerous Menteith in Macbeth (Menteith, usually a nonentity in that play, Ian and I reinvented as Macbeth’s assassin—so he takes out Banquo, kills MacDuff’s family, and in a moment I still love to remember, turns on his people and pretends to be one of Malcolm’s men at the very end). We’ll let him rediscover his talent for comedy as part of the Tavern Dream Team.

Pistol: Sean Mulligan, redux
Here’s the one pointed piece of doubling I will do ... in addition to the high seriousness of Sean’s Banquo (played with a lovely quiet dignity), he showed what a childhood spent watching bricoms can do when he played Dogberry in one of those plays I didn’t direct (Much Ado, directed, incidentally, by Holm). Inspired lunacy, it was.


Stage Manager: Tigger Jourard
Who else? Tigger’s been with me on every show, and is the yin to my yang, the Jekyll to my Hyde, the Edge to my Bono. I want to bottle her quiet authority and sell it.

Assistant Stage Manager: Diane Piccito
Partly because she is so very very good at the job, but mostly to watch her get drunk on sangria at the cast party.

Costumes: Amanda Gauthier
Oh Amanda, how do I love thy presence on my crew? Watching Amanda deal with actors and their various little preening obsessions is pure entertainment value. The best time was when we did our first full-costume run of Richard III, and our actors became a little too fond of the WWI uniforms they donned.

Well, there you have it – I have unfortunately left many people out, in particular some of the amazing women I’ve worked with (H4 is kind of light on the women’s roles, alas). My apologies for this to Brigid Aiken, Christina Marchetti, Gillian Wilson, Susan McDonald, Gwyneth Barrett, Tiffany Koch, Natasha Harwood, Erin Robb, Julie-Ann Stodolny, Laura Higgs and Bethany Cairns (wow, that’s a long list) and all the people (men and women) who I’m inevitably forgetting ...

So, if my dream cast would like to pull up stakes and relocate for three months (two months rehearsal, one month production run) and come out to St. John’s at your own expense, I will see into getting the proper theatre space.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised, I'm flattered, and I'm there!! Just let me know when we can "play out the play."

Clarence said...

I too am surprised and flattered! If I'd known Richard III would be the first and last time I'd work with you (so far, anyway...), I would have been sadder even than I was, those eight years ago, to see that run come to an end.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post with lovely compliments to all. If you decide to direct next summer,!

Anonymous said...

I've been feeling nostalgic about our UWO theatre days too! So glad to have made the all-star list. I miss the people, the plays and the sangria...what a marvelous invention.

Anonymous said...

Makes my heart ache, lets do it, I'm free. Deano

Radioman said...

This I would say is the ultimate definition of serendipity. I was reminiscing about R-3 and tried to find the web page and found your blog instead. I am pleased to learn you are prospering and I wish you continued success.

Dominus vobiscum.

Archbishop of Canterbury

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