“Shakespeare loves women of colour…” We find out what Dr Farah Karim-Cooper of Shakespeare’s Globe has been working on – and learn about Shakespeare’s “alternative discourse of beauty”

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Photos by Bronwen Sharp

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
I’m editing a book called Titus Andronicus: The State of Play, published by Arden – it’s a collection of essays examining what scholars are saying in 2017 about this important play. I have also just started researching a book about Shakespeare, Death and Spectatorship. I have not got an angle other than my interest in what happens to and within the spectator when they see someone die/killed. Either on stage or in reality.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
I have learned that he loves women of colour… which appeals to a Pakistani-American lady like myself! His dark lady sonnets (I’m oversimplifying) reveal an excitement at alternative beauty, the arguments for darker beauty in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour’s Lost suggest that he was engaging in what the terrific scholar Kim F. Hall has described as an alternative discourse of beauty – beauty that is brown, black or just not white. P.S. read Hall’s classic Things Of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
Um… see my answer to Question 2! But seriously, I am not sure. I think I have a lot of Shrew‘s Katherina in me – feisty and with very high standards!”

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If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to mind?
‘Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.’ – King Lear.”

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?
I think my favourite Shakespeare-related fact/anecdote/myth is the one about the dismantling of The Theatre in order to move the timbers across the river and build the Globe. There’s a lot of myth surrounding that story, which makes little sense given there is a great deal of surviving record about it, but I like how the story has been compressed from a couple of major events – i.e. dismantling one playhouse and building another more glorious – taking place over months to something that happened overnight.

“I love the idea of this fantasy – that one morning, the Globe magically appeared on Bankside and that Shakespeare might have played a part in this. It is a wonderful story, as myth-laden as it is. I think an excellent research project would be to build an oak-framed theatre and see how long it takes to dismantle it! I know Peter McCurdy (of McCurdy & Co who built the Globe and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) would like to try this!”

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
I want to see Adrian Lester play Hamlet. He’s one of my favourite Shakespearean actors and Hamlet is my favourite role. It would be unbelievable.”

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper is Head of Higher Education and Research, Globe Education.
Read our interview with Farah in Shakespeare Magazine 10

Marooned boats in a magical woodland: Butterfly Theatre’s The Tempest at Bristol Shakespeare Festival 2015

Directed by Aileen Gonsalves, Butterfly Theatre’s production of The Tempest is a dynamic and exciting take on the play that benefits from its outdoor setting in Bristol’s Leigh Woods. It is one of the many innovative shows taking place this July as part of the Bristol Shakespeare Festival.

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The performance starts deep in Leigh Woods, as singing actors in yellow mackintoshes beckon the audience to pass under a symbolic sea. After this energetic beginning, the audience enters local artist Luke Jerram’s Withdrawn installation, comprising five fishing boats stranded in the woods. The Tempest’s themes of power, reconciliation and magic certainly resonate deeply here among the trees.

The cast of seven guide the audience through a promenade performance where maintaining the momentum is a key element. Prospero (Julian Protheroe) is masterful, surveying his island from a boat’s deck. His relationship with Miranda (Georgie Ashworth) is warm, and Miranda shrieks with appropriate girlishness when she falls for a wide-eyed and earnest Ferdinand (Owen Pullar).
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Ariel is played compellingly by Gail Sixsmith whose powerful movements convince. Caliban (Elliot Thomas) incites pity, but his raucous comic scenes with Trinculo (Matthew McPherson) and “Stephana” (Kate Ellis) excite much laughter amongst the audience.

Though truncated, the production remains faithful to the outlines of the play-text and makes good use of the boats for dramatic effect. The soundscape created by Jonnie Harrison is an interesting mix of drums, instrumental music and singing. And the effect of the music appearing as if from among the trees adds to the magical, slightly eerie atmosphere.
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A play like The Tempest benefits from the unusual outdoor setting, and Butterfly Theatre manage to keep the standing audience happy throughout as the drama and magic unfold amongst the boats.

All images by Elle de Burgh

The Tempest in Leigh Woods ran from 11-17 July.

To find out more about Bristol Shakespeare Festival, go here.

To find out more about Butterfly Theatre, go here.

To find out more about Luke Jerram’s Withdrawn installation, go here.

Much Ado About Something as Shakespeare’s legendary lost play Love’s Labour’s Won surfaces in Stratford – or does it?

Love’s Labour’s Won is famously listed as one of Shakespeare’s ‘lost plays’. However, some academics believe it is in fact not lost but is actually an alternate name for another play, in the way that Twelfth Night is also called What You Will. The RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran appears to believe this theory and goes one further to suggest that the much-beloved Much Ado About Nothing is in fact the missing play. Re-designating Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won and pairing it with Shakespeare’s other screwball rom-com Love’s Labour’s Lost for the first time forms the basis of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 2014 winter season.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.


Love’s Labour’s Won
 sees Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry both making their return to the RSC to play the bickering couple of Benedick and Beatrice, with Edward Bennett returning for the first time since stepping into David Tennant’s shoes to play Hamlet during the London run in 2008.

Director Christopher Luscombe has set the play in 1918 as soldiers return from World War I and used local Tudor house Charlecote Park as his setting. Set designer Simon Higlett had the task of recreating this historical home on stage and he has done a marvellous job doing so. It looks and feels as if you are stepping into an episode of Downton Abbey with the luxious main set featuring a grand piano and a beautifully decorated large Christmas tree.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

Edward Bennett plays Benedick with great wit and comedic timing. In particular the ‘gulling’ scene, where he overhears about Beatrice’s love for him, is full of laughs as he is humiliated by his peers. A personal highlight sees Benedick being semi-electrocuted inside the Christmas tree.

Michelle Terry is more than a match as Beatrice. Just as sharp-tongued and funny as Benedick she stands as a perfect match for Bennett’s returned war hero. Terry holds her own as the feisty and independent heroine. When the couple finally unite the romance pours out of them onstage and they are without a doubt the true and unpredictable love story of the play.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

A notable mention should go to Sam Alexander as the villainous Don John. He appears on crutches, having been injured in the war, which helps his bitterness and hatred shine through.

The play raised many laughs from the audience and none more so than the scene of Dogberry and Verges interrogating Borachio and his co-conspirators regarding their roles in the thwarted marriage of Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim). The hectic confusion is played out perfectly on stage, helped along by the brilliant idea to stage it all within a small portion of the set.

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).


Much Ado About Nothing
– I mean Love’s Labour’s Won – is well-staged, well-acted and a perfect companion for the Love’s Labour’s Lost. It runs until 14 March 2015.

Go here to buy tickets for Love’s labour’s Won.

What did the UK media make of Maxine Peake’s Manchester Hamlet? Shakespeare Magazine reviews the reviews…

The idea to take on the iconic role of Hamlet, Maxine Peake told Creative Tourist, came after she worked with Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom on a 2012 production of Miss Julie. “We’ve got this opportunity now where there’s no boundaries,” she suggested, “so we’ve got to challenge ourselves, perhaps even to the point where we overstretch ourselves.”
As Creative Tourist puts it, Peake was “adamant that this part has got absolutely nothing to do with gender-swapping for shock’s sake.” But it must have been clear from the start that gender (or ‘gender-bending’ as the Telegraph helpfully put it) would be the principal lens through which many critics and punters would experience this production.
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Several reviewers pointed out this was the first time Hamlet has been played by a woman in a high-profile production since Frances de la Tour in 1979. Susannah Clapp (Observer/Guardian) gave as good a summary as can be found of the rich theatrical story Peake’s performance belongs to: ‘There is a long, strong tradition of women performing the role,” she writes. “Sarah Siddons took it on in Manchester in 1777. Victorian actresses, amateur and professional, played the part regularly. Sarah Bernhardt, the first actress to be filmed in the part, declared it should always be performed by a woman.”

Frankcom told Creative Tourist that “Prescribed notions of gender – what is female, what is male – are all in flux at the moment … with our Hamlet, Maxine’s Hamlet, she’s creating a character that’s as much male and as much female.”
Hamlet 9 credit Jonathan Keenan
However, Peake’s Hamlet was for many reviewers very much a prince, rather than the intended royal-human-in-flux. To Polly Gianniba describes it was “a cross between a warrior angel (one of the beautiful lovelorn angels Philip Pullman writes) and the Little Prince.” Michael Billington refers to Peake’s Hamlet as ‘he’. Additionally, Polonius – or Polonia – was played by, and as, a woman (Gillian Bevan). For the Telegraph, this was confusing: “If Hamlet remains, technically, male in this reading – why make these added distinctions?” And one was left wondering whether The Independent reviewer joined the dots of his own thinking when he wrote “We are not used to seeing a woman play Hamlet. The result here is a powerful and yet curiously domestic production.” The suggestion seeming to be that ‘woman’ equals ‘domestic’. Although perhaps this ‘domestic’ sense came from the decision to largely excise the Fortinbras plot, the thread that brings the wider political world into the play’s family drama.
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Fortinbras’s removal was Billington’s “main reservation” about the production, whilst Gianniba enjoyed the production enough that “anything left out feels inconsequential.” When a production minimises Fortinbras, as has often been done before, it usually indicates a focus on personal, rather than geo- politics.

Hamlet, more than many plays, is an intensely ‘personal’ experience. The character invites the audience’s identification through soliloquy and the expression of existential crisis. Having catalogued the staging (in-the-round), costumes (Chairman Mao suit, Bowie haircut for Hamlet, according to the Manchester Evening News and others) and expressed an opinion about the verse speaking – any reviewer in need of a point-of-view must finally fall back upon his or her own inner Hamlet and see how the new suit fits.
Hamlet 6 credit Jonathan Keenan
On these traditional terms, Peake pleased most reviewers. But it’s interesting to wonder who might be “shocked”, as Peake put it, by seeing a woman playing Hamlet in 2014. To an extent, coverage of this production is several degrees removed from the intense, often violent commentary on gender in this year of Beyoncé as ‘FEMINIST’, GamerGate, and the mixture of celebration and death threats that greets any new female re-imagining of Marvel superfolk. Nonetheless, perhaps that is this Hamlet’s wider, personal-political context. Susannah Clapp suggests that, with this and previous productions, “Frankcom is in effect creating England’s first mainstream feminist theatre.” And if a woman playing Hamlet still has the power to shock, or even confuse, an audience in 2014, then the political, like old Hamlet’s wronged ghost in the play, may have been this production’s sustaining energy.

Photography by Jonathan Keenan

Go here for more on Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Gaze in wonder at visionary poet and artist William Blake’s spellbinding paintings inspired by the works of William Shakespeare

This week we’ve been celebrating the 28 November birthday of William Blake (1757-1827). Although perhaps best known for his poems and for writing the words to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, Blake was also a visionary painter, one whose was often Shakespeare-inspired.
Here is Blake’s ‘Pity’ (1795), inspired by the evocative but mysterious line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast…”
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Blake also illustrated more conventional scenes from Shakespeare – although often with a supernatural dimension. Here’s his version of Hamlet encountering his father’s Ghost (1806).
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Brutus and the ghost of Julius Caesar is another haunting Shakespearean scene from Blake (1806).
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And here we have Richard III on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, assailed by the ghosts of his victims (circa 1806).
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Blake also painted Oberon, Titania, Puck and the other fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this beautiful and dreamlike tableau from 1786.
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And Blake even turned his supremely versatile hand to a portrait of Shakespeare himself (circa 1800).
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William Blake was a poet, painter, printer, visionary, mystic – and Shakespearean. Portrait by Thomas Phillips (1807).
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Thank you to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education for showing us the link between two great English literary Williams – William Blake and William Shakespeare.

Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at Tate Britain.
Fnd out about Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education.

Dame Janet Suzman has learned some amazing things from 50 Years of Shakespeare – listen to the full audio here!

For Ben Spiller, Artistic Director of 1623 theatre company, the Shakespeare Highlight of 2014 is the evening he hosted with Dame Janet Suzman in September.

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“Dame Janet is one of the greatest Shakespeareans of our time,” Ben says. “She’s played nearly every female role in the canon, directed Othello with a multiracial cast in South Africa when apartheid was in force, run masterclasses at LAMDA and in prisons, edited Antony and Cleopatra, and written books on performing Shakespeare and the role of women in drama.”

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Ben describes Dame Janet as “one of the most inspirational people I have met” and he was delighted when she visited his home city of Derby to share her experiences with his Shakespeare Night regulars and newcomers.

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“It was a professional and personal highlight for me,” he says, “to share the stage with this incredible woman, whose intelligence, skill and humanity are second to none. As if things couldn’t get any better, her acceptance of the invitation to become 1623′s patron was a dream come true.”

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You can listen to the complete audio of the evening with Dame Janet here.
You can find out more about 1623 theatre company here.

Prepare to lighten your wallet and boost your brain… It’s the Shakespeare Magazine Beautiful Bard Books Roundup

Seeking Christmas gift inspiration? Why not treat a fellow Shakespeare fan (or yourself!) to one of these beautiful Bard-related books. All prices are RRP for UK editions, but if you shop around you may well nab some of these for less (especially in eBook formats).

Shakespeare for Grown-ups
Subtitled “Everything You Need To Know About The Bard”, SHAKESPEARE FOR GROWN-UPS by E. Foley and B. Coates is already a firm favourite in the Shakespeare Magazine office. It’s a fun, handy reference guide that will fit nicely on your shelf between Bill Bryson’s ‘Shakespeare’ and Ben Crystal’s ‘Shakespeare on Toast’. An eminently readable intro for anyone who wants to find out what Shakespeare’s all about, it’s also a great memory refresher for those returning to the Bard in later life (like the Editor of Shakespeare Magazine, for example).

Out now, priced £12.99 Buy ‘Shakespeare for Grown-Ups’ here.

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Opening with the vivid and ultimately heartbreaking reimagining of a medieval childbirth, JULIET’S NURSE by Lois Leveen sees US novelist Leveen give a poetic new voice to one of the most memorable supporting characters in all of Shakespeare, namely the Nurse from ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Watch out for an interview with Lois in the very next issue of Shakespeare Magazine. Meanwhile, you can read the opening chapter of ‘Juliet’s Nurse’ here.

Out now, priced £16.99 Buy ‘Juliet’s Nurse’ here.

Station Eleven
Post-apocalyptic science fiction conveyed via dreamlike prose with a Shakespearean soul, STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel won instant acclaim and a National Book Awards nomination. Opening with a stage performance of ‘King Lear’ that eerily foreshadows the global tragedy to follow, this is definitely one of the year’s must-read novels.

Out now, priced £14.99 Buy ‘Station Eleven’ here.

Forensic Shakespeare
Firmly placed at the more academic end of the market, FORENSIC SHAKESPEARE by Quentin Skinner (no, the title doesn’t refer to Crime Scene Investigations) eloquently explores the idea that the Bard skilfully employed judicial rhetoric in the poem Lucrece and in some half-dozen of his most famous plays. A good one for Lawyers (obviously), Law students and anyone keen to sprinkle their dinner party conversation with some judiciously selected pearls of Shakespearean legalese.

Out now, priced £20 Buy ‘Forensic Shakespeare’ here.

R&J pulp cover Othello pulp cover
Underneath their cheekily mashed-up cover art, PULP! THE CLASSICS – OTHELLO and ROMEO & JULIET by William Shakespeare are readable, no-frills editions of two of the Bard’s Greatest Hits – and the perfect student stocking filler.

Out now, priced £6.99 Buy the Pulp! The Classics editions of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Othello’ here.

PLUS! COMING IN 2015…

Cover Image - The Tutor
THE TUTOR by Andrea Chapin comes recommended by no less a Shakespeare authority than James Shapiro, who deems it “a terrific achievement [that] allows us a glimpse into the workings of Shakespeare’s mind and heart.” A wonderfully entertaining adventure set during the young Will Shakespeare’s infamous ‘Lost Years’, it should please fans of ‘Shardlake’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ alike.

Released 26 March 2015, priced £7.99 TBC Pre-order ‘The Tutor’ here.

Shakespeare gets a Pulp Fiction makeover with this irreverent cover art for new paperback editions of Othello and Romeo & Juliet – and we have 5 sets up for grabs!

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A glowering, ruffed-up Mr T as Othello? An inescapably post-teenage Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Romeo & Juliet? It can only mean one thing: William Shakespeare is receiving a cheeky remix from Pulp! The Classics.

With lurid, genre-splicing cover art from David Mann, the series already includes editions of classic novels like Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but Shakespeare is the first playwright to join their ranks.

And a spokesperson for Pulp! The Classics tells us they hope to release a complete set of Shakespeare titles in due course.

Priced £6.99, the Pulp! The Classics editions of Othello and Romeo & Juliet are on sale at bookshops from Thursday 6 November.

But if you don’t want to shell out your hard-earned groats, we have FIVE pairs of the Shakespeare titles to give away.

To be in with a chance of winning one simply send an email to us at shakespearemag@outlook.com with ‘Pulp Shakespeare!’ in the subject line.

Don’t forget to include your name, address and contact number. Closing date is Thursday 13 November – best of luck!

For more on Pulp! The Classics, check out their website here or follow on Twitter: @pulptheclassics

London is currently the undisputed Shakespeare capital of the world according to the new issue of Shakespeare Magazine

The latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine is now available completely free.

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Yes, that’s right. The fourth issue of Shakespeare Magazine celebrates Shakespeare’s London (with guest appearances from Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Shakespeare in Love). Also this issue: Shakespeare in the mountains of California, New York’s Shakespeare rapper and a plethora of Shakespeare Disasters.

Read Issue 04 of Shakespeare Magazine here.

The Prince and the Passion: in this exclusive interview, actor Matthew Amendt talks about playing Prince Hal in Washington DC with the Shakespeare Theatre Company

Matthew Amendt displays a unique passion when talking about his performance as Prince Hal in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s recent dual presentation of Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, his longstanding relationship with Prince Hal and Shakespeare being the cause. Amendt first encountered Hal when he was seven years old, and then again in 2009 when, as part of Guthrie Theatre, he performed the title role in their touring production of Henry V. Now, he takes some time to reflect on the great king’s younger persona.

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You started performing Shakespeare at a very young age…
“Well, my mom was an English teacher and needed a prop infant when she was directing shows. I think I played the changeling in A Midsummer’s Night Dream when I was just a wee tot. Ever since then it has just been really present for me and made a lot of sense. I was too young to know any better – that I wasn’t supposed to like it. It wasn’t a popular thing to like Shakespeare.”

What appealed to you about Shakespeare?
“I loved the sweeping grandness of the story and the beauty of the poetry and the power of the verse. All those things really meant a lot to me. I was very young and I just grew into it as I got older. Then I trained at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, where I was fortunate enough to be taken into the acting company there and worked for ten years on all the great Shakespeare plays.”

Why did you particularly identify with the Hal/Henry character?
“To be honest with you, I am as befuddled about it as anybody. I had some health stuff when I was young and my mom gave me these plays when I was frightened, when I was a frightened sick kid. I think every little kid loves to think that there is a story out there about them, particularly princes and princess and kings and kingdoms, monsters and dragons. I think that the journey that Prince Hal takes to become Henry V and the choices he makes as that king meant a lot to me. That you could make mistakes and come back from them, that you could change, that you weren’t out of the game.

“He just sort of felt like a big brother to me, somebody to take care of me and keep me on the straight and narrow. Of course, as I got older the ambiguity of the plays and the cruelty of all the characters – Hal certainly can be very cruel – came through, and it became more challenging for me. It’s a great story to grow up with and grow into because it’s so deep and broad, and complex. There is something for everybody at every point in their life.”

How did audiences react to this production?
“Well, you know, what’s fascinating about these plays is they exist on such different ends of the spectrum depending on the viewer. I have had people in the audience come up to me and say they have never been able to connect with Hal and how much they admire or enjoyed the work we did in this production with him sort of being a child growing into a man. And I have had audience members come up to me and say ‘That’s not the play for me, you are not my Hal, and I didn’t get any of that.’

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“It’s such a subjective thing. These two poles of honour versus the reality of political machinations – how we move through the world as political animals – anyone who comes in contact with the plays develops their own perspective on that. Maybe that is why it’s popular – not because it is one thing, but because it can be so many for people.

“I think that is really the strength of Michael’s direction in the show that he has been very specific about the acting and the tension and the characters – and been brave enough to let the plays breathe and let people feel the way they feel. I’ve been accosted on the street by people saying I’m their Hal or I am absolutely not their Hal. That’s a really fascinating experience to have lived through. It’s very interesting the way we do battle with each other about what these plays mean to a contemporary audience.”

What, for you, are these plays about?
“They are all about different things, which I think is the beautiful thing. Henry IV, Part 1 is such a coming-of-age story and it’s such a broad sort of summer blockbuster of Shakespeare plays – so much life and vitality and a real struggle for what kind of community we want to be. And Henry IV, Part 2, it’s sort of humble, forlorn. That’s one of the incredible things about these plays – they don’t really exist independently of each other in terms of the plot, but in terms of themes and character they are very different plays. One of these things that is fun to work on is I think you can really feel the playwright wrestling with these questions himself.”

Why is this specific part of history so popular right now?
“I always hate that they are called history plays because it’s not really history. Most of the character relationships are completely fictional. He was certainly inspired by what he read in the Holinshed about the history of England, but Hotspur and Hal never fought. Hotspur was a much older man and Hal was a little more than a child at the Battle of Shrewsbury. I think he was 16. There is an element of them that is a mythic play and I think that’s what audiences are drawn to today.”

What are some of your favourite moments in the plays?
“There are so many. The play-within-a-play with Falstaff in the tavern scene, the rejection and the foreshadowing of that. I love doing that with Stacy [Keach]. Stacy’s delightful to play with in that scene when everybody’s on stage together and you can really feel a live, thrilling sense of danger happening in that bar. Then rejecting Falstaff – ‘I know thee not, old man’ is one of the great scenes in Shakespeare. Two people coming to this impasse in their relationship where what they want or what they would desire if they were free is impossible. It comes to this awful conclusion and I think in our performance that that’s as difficult for Hal as it is for Falstaff. The writing in that bit is beautiful, the shifting of the pronouns from the royal pronoun to the personal pronoun. It’s a much more complicated speech than I gave it credit for.

“And then of course the bedroom scenes with Ed Gero, an incredible actor who is playing an incredible King Henry. When Henry is leaving and the two of them are sort of negotiating everything, it is certainly a contemporary father-son relationship. The ideas of ‘What am I passing on?’ and ‘What have you given me?’ Those scenes are delightful in the way that fathers and sons misunderstand each other.”

Read the full feature on this production of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 in Issue 3 of Shakespeare Magazine.