HENRY V, starring Alessandro Juliani, directed by Meg Roe, presented by Bard on the Beach during the 2010 season, is the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen. It’s probably even the best thing I’ve ever seen, period. That’s my short review.
The long review is going to take a bit longer. It’s going to take me writing something or everything, maybe, inspired by it before I know how deeply it affected me.
It was easy to decide which productions I wanted to see this year. I always love the meta-ness of shared casts. Shakespeare does that a lot anyway, but sharing between productions is a Bard thing I love. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to the Hamlet/Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
This summer, it’s the Henrys. The IVs mashed up into something called FALSTAFF and, also, HENRY V. HENRY V is the better written play, but it was also an inspired production. It was fucking brilliant, there’s just really no other way to put it.
I was blown away from the very first moment. From the empty stage, but for one tall throne. From the costumes, sweaters torn apart and put back together again. The fight scenes that looked like a dance and sounded like a march. Alessandro Juliani plays Henry in that awkward space between friend and king. Bob Frazer has a couple of tiny roles, but he makes so much of them in Henry that he even topped himself as Hotspur in FALSTAFF. How is that possible? Hotspur is a marquee role. HENRY V is a marquee play.
I didn’t even hate all the audience laughter as much as I usually do. When people watch Shakespeare, they tend to laugh when they understand a line. It’s not always funny, but it’s the only way they can prove to the crowd that they “get it”.
I got it. I wanted more. I didn’t want it to end. I went to the Bard website to buy tickets to see it again, but HENRY was all sold out. The other shows, you could still find a few tickets. Henry was all sold out. I think word got around. There’s no way they were all BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fans.
On my way home, I thought, it’s the kind of show that inspires everything you do that comes after. During the intermission, I started taking notes for this idea about a band of travelling players. I had been thinking about it rewatching SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, and this production brought it all up again. I could write something, weaving Shakespeare into an original story, and it could be the kind of thing Bard produces. I could find a play that meshes well with my original story. I’m rereading TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA right now. Because my story already has two gentlemen.
I want to write something inspired by all my favourite productions of Shakespeare. The WWII version of MUCH ADO by Carousel Theatre, with Beatrice as Rosie the Riveter and Benedick as a Navy man. The modern version of HENRY IV I saw in Ashland, with the punk Hal and Falstaff, contrasted with the militaristic Hotspur. Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET, of course, which came around at just the right time in my life. TITUS ANDRONICUS, Julie Taymor-style. Everything that ever borrowed plot or lines or style from Shakespeare. BARE, which repurposes Romeo and Juliet’s story for confused and gay Catholic school boys. More that I’m probably forgetting now, but will come to me later. Peter Brook’s stark, wintery KING LEAR.
Because Shakespeare is easy. Everyone says they love Shakespeare. He’s The Beatles of literature. Everyone thinks they love him, but few really know him. He influences everyone, without anyone really knowing. He’s the obvious answer to every question. That’s what makes loving him hard, too. To spend an entire life reading, only to end up back at Shakespeare. Like, shouldn’t I have moved on by now?
I haven’t. That’s why Shakespeare’s still relevant today. Because we can’t move on. We haven’t finished. There’s still so much to figure out. There’s still another play to write that uses his words in a brand new way. That’s what I want to write.