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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0643 Thursday, 13 November 2008
From: Gregory Hanthorn <
Date: Wednesday, 12 Nov 2008 17:51:11 EST
Subject: Live Performance of Henry VI (Parts 1-3) in Atlanta
The Atlanta Shakespeare Company, Inc., is presenting all three parts of Henry VI
in performance this month. The attached on-line article from the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution contains a review of Henry VI, Part One, and some comments
on the entire series.
November 28, 29, and 30 will present a once in a lifetime chance to see all
three plays presented back to back to back, and a limited number of tickets
remain available for that weekend at www.shakespearetavern.com
Now Playing at the Shakespeare Tavern:
Henry VI, parts 1, 2, and 3
Runs Thurs-Sunday, 06 Nov - 30 November 2008
Coming next: A Christmas Carol
Buy your tickets online at _www.shakespearetavern.com_
Royal Family Trilogy
Shakespeare Tavern tackles 'Henry VI' as part of ongoing project.
By _Pierre Ruhe_ (
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Joan of Arc, sporting a butch haircut and chain mail, moves with feline agility.
In a few deft swings of her sword and a fierce left hook, she decks the future
king of France, earning his allegiance and his lust. But this Joan is no saint.
By the time she is captured by the English, she's been revealed as a harlot and,
almost as troubling, as a religious fanatic in league with demons. And she is
without honor, pleading and whimpering for her life (and her unborn child's)
before being carried to the stake to be burned.
Meanwhile, the young English king, Henry VI, is too callow to enforce peace
among his own subjects. His vassals-at turns slap-stick or vicious -- argue
over their rightful claims to the throne, leading to the War of the Roses, the
civil war fraught between two branches of the same royal family. Shakespeare's
"Henry VI" trilogy was his first attempt to write history for the stage, in the
early 1590s. Wildly popular in his day, they made his reputation.
Yet the three plays, as a cycle, have largely fallen out of sight. They're now
on the boards at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, an "original practice" company
that uses a core troupe of actors who perform in an Elizabethan-styled
playhouse-pub in Midtown.
Billed as the first professional performances in the Southeast, the production
is in repertory through Nov. 30; the three plays can be seen on consecutive
evenings beginning Nov. 28.
Eat, drink, enjoy the Bard's psychologically nuanced verse -- and count the
severed heads, all seven of them, custom made to match the actors who lose them.
The three "Henry VI" plays, says Jeff Watkins, the tavern's artistic director,
run as "an unbroken arc, they come off as one big 15-act play that's seven
hours long. They're bloody plays, but there's also a richness to experience the
playwright discover for himself tricks and techniques he'd use later, and more
Then there are the extravagant female roles. The blatantly anti-French (and
anti-Catholic) portrayal of Joan of Arc is typical of Elizabethan England. More
unusual is Margaret of Anjou, whom Watkins calls "arguably the greatest, in some
ways most ruthless, female role in all of Shakespeare." Margaret is a beautiful,
impoverished princess in part one. She takes a lover then marries Henry in part
two and, by part three, matures into an Amazon warrior queen, loathing her king
and victorious on the battlefield.
Watkins decided on mount "Henry VI" as part of the troupe's ongoing history
project, which has already covered both popular "Henry IV" plays plus "Henry V"
and "Richard II." After these Henry Sixes will come "Richard III" next year.
Which raises the question: If each of these other sagas are oft-performed and
even filmed by Hollywood, what has stunted "Henry VI"? Barbara Mowat, co-editor
of the Folger Shakespeare edition of plays and director of research at the
Folger Library in Washington, is currently editing " Henry VI" part 3.
Her verdict: "They're terrifically exciting in the theater, less so on the page.
Margaret requires a first-rate actress to stitch together that complex character."
Mowat suspects the inconsistent quality of the "Henry VI" plays is due to
multiple authorships-when it wasn't uncommon for different playwrights (or the
even the actors) to add bits to a play.
That jibes with the Oxford Shakespeare edition, which frames the matter
squarely: For centuries the trilogy had the "dubious distinction ... of being
Shakespeare's least liked and least played." Watkins, speaking in his Tudor
fortress overlooking Peachtree Street, has his theories why.
"You get a shallow sense of what can be done from reading and you can't tell
what's comedy," he offers. "They make ruthless fun of the French, but that' s
not evident till the actors are on stage and it's clear what they're saying and
Stephen Greenblatt, author of the best-selling "Will in the World: How
Shakespeare Became Shakespeare," was startled to learn that a regional troupe
would attempt "Henry VI."
Reached this week at his office at Harvard, Greenblatt sees the "Henry VI" plays
as first glimpses into the grand themes central to the playwright's career output.
Across the three plays, there's an exploration of political rebellion and the
nature of leadership.
There are fantasies of restoration. And there are tormented marriages and
characters twisted by their religious belief. Joan of Arc is a witch, while King
Henry VI is described as saintly -- "all his mind is bent to holiness" -- but
his pathetic weakness leads to disaster for the realm.
For Watkins and the Shakespeare Tavern -- coming off the best box office
receipts in its history with some 50,000 tickets sold last season -- pushing
the edges of the Shakespeare canon is part of the mission.
"'Henry VI' gets the same treatment as all our work," says Watkins, where
"following the letter of the text to an absurd degree is our first ambition."
Watkins says he wants no distance between the poetry and the audience, "so if
our emotional journey is going to work it's immediate and it's powerful.
"And there are always the 16 battle scenes and the beheadings to keep everyone's
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