Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0123. Monday, 19 February 1996.
Date: Thursday, 15 Feb 1996 18:16:08 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Acting Co.'s *HV*
Since I enjoy other SHAKSPERians' accounts of performances they see, I'm
sending this description of the *HV*, directed by Mary Lou Rosato, being toured
by The Acting Company, which performed here at Vanderbilt Feb. 10. Since
they're touring widely, I expect other list members will have the chance to see
this production. I hope you do (I found it marvelously provocative) and that
you add your comments to mine.
Rosato sets the play in a tavern some years after the setting of the play. The
mood is that of blue-collar friends gathering on Crispian's Day to recount
their adventures to each other before a parade. From the cast list I see that
many characters have a name from *HV*, Pistol (now a pawn broker), Fluellen
(an accountant), and so on, but this was not something I realized as I watched
The play opens with the opening of the tavern and the players bounding in
bringing props and costumes, including a large, wheeled laundry basket marked
"Crispin Day Stuff." Out of this come the costumes which the characters don
while performing -- for each other as much as for the audience -- the story of
the great war. (The epigram for their production is King Henry's words before
Agincourt in IV.iii. about making a story out of their scars and the war.)
This setting plays with the elements of history making implicit in
Shakespeare's play, and, in their trading the crown and robe about to everyone
regardless of gender or race, the "making" of kings (also implicit in
Shakespeare's highlighting of Prince Hal's performance as king).
The chorus becomes a chorus (the entire cast is always on stage), mood changes
are signalled by choruses of war songs ("White Cliffs of Dover," etc.), and
Katherine's English lesson takes on new relevance as it occurs during a dance
during which her partner keeps groping at her.
They use Shakespeare's words with little abridgement, but their shifting the
role of HV around, sometimes by lot, once by coersion, and their explicit
linking of tavern violence to patriotic violence makes a fascinating statement
about the ways society makes kings and pertetuates war.
The most striking moment for me (and for my undergrad students -- many of whom
found the production fairly confusing, by the way, despite my mistressful
teaching of the play the weeks before. Ah well...) came when a woman, as HV,
makes that horrible speech outside the gates of Harfleur. This is staged so
that while facing the theatre audience, she mimes calling her conditions up to
the governor on the walls. As she continues the conditions, each progressively
more hideous (this is the spiked baby, raped daughter speech), her own soldier
looks at her questioningly. By the time she ends, she can play the part no
longer and takes off the crown, handing it to an unwilling fellow next to her.
I saw the moment as her enacting the horror she feels at realizing that war
puts those words into a person's mouth -- and even more horror at realizing
that she could say them.
The play ends with the group performing the Epilogue sometimes in chorus,
sometimes with individuals taking lines. Their work here and throughout the
production underscores in interesting ways Shakespeare's own words "In little
room confining mighty men" (the set looks cramped and is never changed), and
the polyvocal quality of Shakespeare's play that seems, simultaneously, to
praise and to question the institutions of kings and wars.