“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
Welcome to the Michael Grandage Company’s production of Henry V by William Shakespeare
Can the King of England hold his nerve to embrace his duty, command his men and lead his country to victory in France? Shakespeare’s great play of nationhood investigates the bloody horrors of war and the turbulence of a land in crisis.
Jude Law and Michael Grandage continue their collaboration that began with Hamlet in 2009. Law also appeared in the Donmar Warehouse’s award-winning production Anna Christie, as part of Grandage’s final season as Artistic Director.
‘I’d already seen Jude Law in ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Faustus and Ion when we did Hamlet - I saw him as a classical actor. This has come entirely out of that relationship - we wanted it to continue. It was a question of which part. Henry V is a relatively young man’s role and Jude is getting older and wanting to do that before he does any other. That was one motivation. The play itself has the whole question of nationhood at its centre, while looking at the issue of great responsibility sitting on one man’s shoulder. The context of how we explore it is something we’ve already started discussions about and will continue doing so for the best part of six or seven months until we hone down the right environment but the themes will never change and will always be pertinent whether we as a country are or are not at war. The world’s at war, usually.’ Michael Grandage
Director - Michael Grandage
Set & Costume Designer - Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer - Neil Austin
Composer & Sound Designer - Adam Cork
Casting Director - Anne McNulty
Movement Director - Michael Ashcroftt
Wig & Hair Designer - Campbell Young
Production Manager - Paul Handley
Co-Production Manager - Anna Anderson
Company Stage Manager - Sophie Gabszewicz
Deputy Stage Manager - Rhiannon Harper
Assistant Stage Manager - Ralph Buchanan
Props Supervisor - Celia Strainge
Costume Supervisor - Natasha Ward
Dialect Coach - Penny Dyer
Head of Wardrobe - Tim Gradwell
Head of Wigs & Make-Up - Gemma Flaherty
Deputy Head of Wardrobe - Charlotte Stidwell
Wardrobe Assistant - Rachael McIntyre
Dresser - Amanda Wilde
Associate Director - Lisa Blair
Associate Set & Costume Designer - Lee Newby
Associate Lighting Designer - Derek Anderson
Associate Sound Designer - Giles Thomas
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon and educated at the town’s grammar school. He had been working as playwright and actor in London’s playhouses for some five years by the mid-1590s, when A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written and performed, and had published two narrative poems, The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis. His Sonnets, privately circulated and dating from 1593 and 1603, were first printed in 1608. A series of romantic comedies were performed between 1597 and 1601: The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. These years also saw the two parts of King Henry IV, King Henry V, King John and Julius Caesar, and Hamlet, thought to date from around 1600. Between 1602 and 1606 came a number of plays that were barely comedies but not clearly tragedies: Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well. From the same period are the great tragedies: Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. In later years he favoured stories with a freer, romantic range, the last of these being The Tempest (1610-11). His last known dramatic works were written in collaboration with John Fletcher: The Two Noble Kinsmen and All Is True (also known as King Henry VIII), performed in 1613. After retiring to Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare died there on 23 April 1616.
A Restless History
Shakespeare's ambiguous handling of one of England's most celebrated monarchs has led to a long fascination with Henry V. Russell Jackson explores the play's continuing appeal.
Henry V was probably written in 1599 and first published in 1600, at around the same time as Hamlet (written between 1598 and 1600). The culminating episode of the series represented by Richard II (1595) and the two parts of Henry IV (1597-98), the play has often been recognised as profoundly ambiguous, celebrating valour and leadership while at the same time conveying the loss, pain and brutality of war. In this it resembles such films of military conflict as Saving Private Ryan or the TV series Band of Brothers. For all their claims to an unflinching presentation of the miseries and dangers (and brutalities) of warfare, it is often difficult to separate the impact of these films from the audience’s desire to see their heroes succeed in a ‘just war’. Similarly, with the two feature films of Shakespeare’s play – Laurence Olivier’s in 1944 and Kenneth Branagh’s in 1988 – the excitement and glamour of the entertainment has been thought to cancel out their thoughtfulness and subtlety. Is Henry V, then, unavoidably glamorising military success? When he gives the tactically legitimate command that ‘every man should kill his prisoner’ to stop the French forces regrouping, is Henry really the ‘good king’ described by the play’s own enthusiastic military historian, Captain Fluellen? Or does the vivid, warlike energy of his threats to the citizens of Harfleur – ‘I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur/Till in her ashes she lies buried’ – reflect a ruthlessness of spirit within Henry that the play endorses?
It may be better to think of it as a restless work. It constantly reminds us, through the Chorus’s speeches, of its own artifice, undermining idealism with the pragmatism and at times ruthless decisiveness of the central character, and shifting its ground so that the point of view of one character or group of characters is qualified by that of another. ‘Now all the youth of England are on fire,’ says the Chorus, but the next scene takes us to the street-life of Eastcheap and the kind of company Henry has put behind him. The battle of Agincourt is represented by episodes around the conflict itself, including the scene between the abject French knight Monsieur Le Fer and Pistol, the self-styled ensign (‘ancient’) who is a ‘counterfeit cowardly knave’ with a taste for stage-play rhetoric. And at the very end the Chorus reminds us that although Henry’s successful campaign and subsequent dynastic marriage achieved ‘the world’s best garden’ – a phrase that eerily suggests the Eden from which Adam and Eve were expelled – everything was lost when his son Henry VI became king:
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France, and made our England bleed.
In Henry’s journey through the play, the ambiguity exists at a personal level, as he deals with the responsibilities of his position and – notably on the eve of battle – the sin committed by his father, Henry IV, in usurping the throne. He also has to cope with the lingering memory of the waywardness of his own youth – a legend developed and explored by Shakespeare so effectively that in the public imagination it overshadows the historical realities of his early career. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely are amazed by his conversion from ‘courses vain’ and ‘companies unlettered, rude, and shallow,’ to exemplary piety and wisdom, and when Henry calls on the archbishop for an account of his claim to the French throne, the sobriety and urgency of his request spell out the grave responsibility it places on the prelate:
For God doth know how many now in health
Shall drop their blood in approbation
Of what your reverence shall incite us to.
When the king asks ‘May I with right and conscience make this claim’ the reply – ‘The sin upon my head, dreaded sovereign!’ – emphasises the consequences of such decisions for the souls of those who make them. Throughout the play, Henry’s frequent references to God both invoke His providence (‘But all this lies within the will of God, / To whom I do appeal’) and the account that must be made by kings and commoners on the Day of Judgment. The night before Agincourt, as Henry moves in disguise among his troops, he encounters a discussion among the common soldiers on this very subject: few men who die in battle ‘die well’ in the sense of having made their peace with God, and is the king responsible for the peril their eternal souls must be in? It is this argument that is fresh in his mind when, in the first of only two speeches he utters when he is alone, Henry meditates on the ‘ceremony’ that distinguishes kings from their subjects and reflects on the heavy burden placed on the monarch:
Upon the King! Let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children, and our sins, lay on the King!
We must bear all. O hard condition!
But when he is summoned to the field, his next long speech – not so much a soliloquy as a prayer – is a plea that the ‘God of battles’ will not ‘think upon the fault’ that his father made in deposing Richard II. When the battle is over, and he is told the extraordinary disproportion of numbers of men lost on either side, Henry exclaims ‘O God, thy hand was here!’ and orders the singing of the ‘Non nobis’ (‘Not to us, o Lord, but to Thee let glory be given’). Any modern production of Henry V has to deal with the King’s obsession with God. A medieval setting arguably helps our understanding of this, which is probably why film and television versions of the play haven’t updated the period and why it is helpful for modern theatre audiences to view the themes of the play through the prism of a period other than our own. It certainly puts the deeply religious aspects of the play in context.
In the course of the play, Henry confronts one test after another: dealing with traitors in his court; rallying his troops at Harfleur; confronting his anxieties and the truths of warfare; fighting the battle itself; and, in the final scene, wooing a Princess who will not let him get off lightly (‘Is it possible that I should love the enemy of France?’). Meanwhile, one by one the associates of his ‘prodigal’ youth are removed from the scene: Falstaff, a surrogate father, the ‘reverend vice’ of the Henry IV plays, dies offstage; Bardolph is hanged – with Henry’s approval – for stealing from a church before the army even reaches the field of Agincourt; Nym is also executed; and Mistress Quickly, who presides over the Boar’s head tavern in Eastcheap, is reported as having died from venereal disease. Only Pistol will survive to continue a life of thieving and boasting, and to tell his version of the tale. In his mouth, it will be a false one, as he will pass off his bruises from being cudgelled as scars that he got ‘in the Gallia wars’.
In the first act the Dauphin insults the new king with a gift of tennis balls, supposedly ‘matching to his youth and vanity’. The insult from the French prince is rebuffed roundly by Henry. In one respect the Dauphin is an example of what Henry is not – restrained with difficulty by his cautious father and has little sense of strategy or decorum. In this respect, he resembles the image of the ‘wild’ prince he wrongly assumes he still has to deal with. The English king is not simply the ‘warlike Harry’ of the Chorus’s first speech, a quasi-mythical figure who assumes the demeanour (‘port’) of Mars, the god of war, with ‘famine sword and fire, / Leash’d in like hounds’ crouching at his heels. Although we have direct access to his inward thoughts only on the night before Agincourt, there is in him something of the quality of another hero who must face up to responsibilities to God and to man and to the memory of his dead father, and who is conscious of the danger to his immortal soul of the tasks he undertakes – his near contemporary, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
Russell Jackson is Allardyce Nicoll Professor of Drama at the University of Birmingham. His most recent publications include Shakespeare Films in the Making (2007) and Theatres on Film: How the Cinema Imagines the Stage (2013).
Uncle to King Henry
Gower - Officer in King Henry’s army
Officer in King Henry’s army
Officer in King Henry’s army
Bates - Officer in King Henry’s army
Williams - Officer in King Henry’s army
Lords, Ladies, Officers, French and English Soldiers, Citizens, Messengers and Attendants
Lords, Ladies, Officers, French and English Soldiers, Citizens, Messengers and Attendants
Associate Director Lisa Blair provides a week-by-week summary of rehearsals for Henry V
Today is the big day! It’s the first day of rehearsals for Henry V and for the next five weeks we’ll be rehearsing at the Jerwood Space in Southwark.
Our day begins at 11am with a ‘Meet and Greet'. The purpose of this is for everyone involved in the production to meet one another and begin to establish the relationships that will continue over the rehearsal period and into the twelve-week performance schedule. Those invited range from the Creative Team - director, designer, Lighting Designer, Composer & Sound Designer, etc. - to the twenty-strong acting company, to the marketing consultants. We all get the chance to mingle and introduce ourselves informally over a cup of tea.
After this we all form a circle and, going once round, say who we are and what our title/role/character is. This done, rehearsals begin with a showing of the model-box. This is a small, to-scale version of the set and is a very important aspect of the first day of rehearsals – it’s very useful for the actors to see the shape and get a feel of the stage on which they will ultimately be performing. During the next four weeks we will have a to-scale mark-up on the floor of the rehearsal room, so we will need this picture in our heads. It’s also helpful to establish entrances and exits and to ultimately understand the design concept that both Michael Grandage, the director, and Christopher Oram, the designer, have worked on.
Christopher also shows us the costume designs for each character. There are a lot of people in this play so it was brilliant to see the difference in colours and status and, ultimately, the spirit of each character through their costume design. We made copies of these, as well as photographing the model-box, and blue-tacked them to the walls so we could refer to them anytime we needed in rehearsals.
After the design talk, we got stuck into rehearsals straightaway. Michael’s process is exceptionally clear and engages the actors immediately. We read one scene at a time and then he asks the actors to translate each line into modern language for clarity of thought. This isn’t a purist exercise - interpretation is absolutely allowed, but if a translation is factually incorrect then Russell Jackson, our Text Consultant, or Michael will make sure it’s corrected. We also discuss the use of language, interpretation of character and their various journeys. This exercise shines light on the unknown and throws up questions that can be explored in rehearsals.
Following this, we got the scene up on its feet. Michael let the actors work their way through each scene several times, allowing them to create their own natural ‘blocking’ - the precise movement and positioning of actors on a stage in order to facilitate the performance. This process was applied for the whole play and took us until the end of the fourth day to complete.
On day five we focused on movement with Michael Ashcroft, the Movement Director, and Adam Cork, Composer & Sound Designer. Adam and Michael sat in on the first week of rehearsals to fully understand the direction of the play and the essence of each and every scene as it was explored. This meant that by the fifth day they could look at the fluidity of the characters’ journeys between and during scenes. It was absolutely brilliant to experiment with a physical and vocal language among the company and see where this might fit within the play’s narrative.
Overall this week has been absolutely fascinating. We’ve unpicked the meaning of every word, put each scene on its feet and started to explore the relationships between characters - and also relationships as colleagues! I’m looking forward to next week.
This week the priority was to revisit every scene to explore them further. We immediately got each one on its feet to look at the blocking and textual aspects. Interestingly, the shape of each scene - which we worked on in week one - seemed to give us what we needed. It demonstrates that the collective instinct regarding blocking in the early days of rehearsals can be very useful.
The purpose of this week was to absolutely make our choices with regard to the text. Actors were allowed to have their scripts while we worked this week, with the idea being that next week they will set them aside and work the scenes from memory. Michael was keen that the actors take collective responsibility for writing down their entrances and exits, which can be quite tricky as there are seven possible choices within the set! It was also important that general blocking was recorded too, so that when we come to revisit the scenes in week three we don’t have to stop and remind the actors where they’re meant to be.
Another aspect of the production we worked this week was movement. Michael wanted to explore the possibility of staging ‘battle wipes', which would help tell the tale of the two warring sides of France and England - the idea being that these ‘wipes’ would happen in between scenes, showing the passage of time and charting the course of the Battle of Agincourt.
Henry V is an intriguing play in this respect, because Shakespeare charts the course of the Battle of Agincourt but hasn’t actually written the staging of any of the battles themselves. Michael wanted to explore showing both sides warring and in transit between scenes. To do this, he and Michael (Ashcroft) work together with the actors, looking at battle configurations moving en masse from stage right to left, both physically and vocally.
Two other elements that were worked into this week were voice and dialect sessions with Penny Dyer and costume fittings. There are so many different characters in the play, and so many accents - Irish, Welsh, London Estuary - that some very clever scheduling was worked out in order to release people to attend these extra sessions.
As well as continuing to work through the play chronologically, beginning to piece some scenes with others, understudy rehearsals started this week. These are very important because, for a production such as this, the company need the security of knowing that if an actor is ill then the show can go on.
I take these rehearsals, Michael facilitating this by allowing me to work with the actors between 4.30pm and 6.30pm every day. I’m also able to work on Saturdays until lunchtime. This might seem like a lot of hours, but we have seven actors who are understudying every character in the play, as well as playing their own parts!
The understudy system is particularly complex for a production of this size, and also due to the nature of the actors occasionally playing more than one character. This means that if an actor were ill, their understudy would step up and play that actor’s part/s. However, this can mean that the understudy’s roles need to be filled. So then another understudy would step up and play those parts for that performance, and so on. Understudies are very tricky with a Shakespeare play!
The rehearsal process for the understudies is exactly the same as Michael’s main rehearsals but reduced in time, as they need to be ‘off-book’ - having learnt all their lines - and ready to go on, knowing the blocking, by the first preview.
Meanwhile, in the main rehearsals, we’ve continued to work through the play, building on the text, the relationships and the blocking. We have also reached the stage where we’ve run two or three scenes together. This has proven very useful and particularly effective, because the actors are becoming more and more familiar with the text as they’re now off-book. This means they can reach the next level of listening and engaging whilst acting in a scene.
An interesting additional rehearsal we had this week was doing a sound recording on stage at the Noel Coward Theatre. Apparently it’s the best place to record, in terms of acoustics, and it was nice for the company to have a feel of standing on the stage that soon they’ll be performing on. The sound we recorded was various Eastcheap chattering, for a wipe we are staging, as well as some English battle cries!
The aim of this week is to work through the play twice, in order to start piecing together the scenes to create a ‘whole'. We have, therefore, scheduled the rehearsals to look at three or four scenes running concurrently. This gives a great sense of the sections of the play, tonally, for the actors and also for the Creative Team.
Another area that we focused on this week was precision with lines. Michael was keen that any repeated mistakes in the learning of a line were pointed out to the actor. This is particularly important because this is the week to kick the habit!
By mid-week we’ve managed to work through the whole play once and have made a start on running the first six scenes. We’ve also been continuing understudy rehearsals and these are progressing well. By the end of the week we’ve discussed the modern-day translations and also blocked each scene according to what’s been done in the main rehearsals.
Education Associate Dominic Francis provides an insight into the cast and Creative Team’s rehearsal process for Henry V
Having assembled the cast and Creative Team of Henry V for the traditional ‘Meet and Greet’ on the first day of rehearsals, Artistic Director Michael Grandage offers a brief introduction to the play and production, commenting that it’s ‘rarely seen in the West End’. He highlights the fact that Henry V depicts a time nearly six hundred years ago and reflects on the need to make it relevant to contemporary audiences. Michael focuses on the Chorus, who in this production will double as the Boy. (The Boy is the Chorus and vice-versa.) He will be dressed in modern, twenty-first century clothing. ‘He will be our invisible chord between now and then. I want the “then” to be as relevant to the now as it can possibly be.’ Michael comments on the Chorus/Boy’s relationship with the audience: ‘It’s not many people in the play who have direct address.’
He refers to the 2003 production at the National Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner, observing that this was staged when the UK was at war in Iraq. ‘That was Nick Hytner speaking to an audience about then.’ Michael’s keen to ‘unlock the play on an even deeper level', guarding against the pitfalls of attempting to draw too many parallels with the present day. ‘If you just do a modern-dress production you only ever see yourself on stage – you don’t see the past. We’re celebrating a part of British history that seems to be alive, viewing the “now” through the prism of “then".'
This leads Jude Law, playing Henry, to ask about costumes – ‘Will it be in period dress?’ Michael tends to be cautious about anything that purports to historical accuracy. ‘There may be a whiff of “nonny",' he says with a smile - ‘nonny’ being his word to describe those elements associated with more traditional stagings of Shakespeare: ‘Tuckets and tights’.
At this point Michael invites designer Christopher Oram to share his sketches, who discusses the ‘nature of the fabrics and colours’ - the English court will be in red with the French in blue. Christopher explains that most of the costumes will be hired from Angels, the costumiers, who have among the garments in their warehouse items used in Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of the play. He prefers ‘costumes with history and life', explaining that it’s ‘how you put them together’ - layering garments and crossing periods. ‘The space should look like it’s told a thousand stories,’ says Christopher.
‘It’s quite a butch, masculine world,’ observes Michael. ‘The design is part of the earth. Rooted.’ He refers to axes and clubs instead of swords, the hierarchy within the army depicted by different weapons. He and Christopher discuss costumes in terms of characters with a ‘strong silhouette', Michael reflecting on the terminology used - ‘I don’t see them as costumes but as clothes.’ The clergy have long robes to suggest their status, whereas the characters that inhabit Eastcheap – Pistol, Bardolph and Nym – have a ‘very different line'. Some actors play more than one character and the plan is to ‘wig the doubles’ in order to differentiate their parts. The guiding principle is to remove hair for subsequent appearances. ‘I’m not a fan of adding more on for the second character,’ says Michael. ‘I think audiences are cleverer than that – they look for disguises.’
Christopher explains that fittings will take place over the coming three weeks, so that the ‘clothes’ are ready for the rehearsal room. Michael elaborates on the production schedule: ‘Week five is focused on technical. Running but still rehearsing, still excavating character.’ He wants to introduce as many elements to the rehearsal room as possible in order to prepare the actors. ‘Lighting is the only thing that can’t join us ahead,’ he explains. All the departments are working towards the moment where the production meets an audience. ‘We have a duty to be ready by first preview,’ says Michael.
Although he only rehearses with those actors in a scene present in the room, Michael acknowledges the fact that they’re a large company who need to meet regularly – ‘To keep in touch with the arc of the play.’ Unless it’s a new play, or a new translation or adaptation of an old one, he doesn’t start rehearsals with a readthrough. ‘They’re not a level playing field,’ he says. ‘People are at different stages. I’ve seen a real loss of nerves with some great actors. There’s no need to put ourselves through it.’
Instead, the actors in each scene will read through it once, then re-read it translating the words into ‘modern’ English, decoding the meaning of words no longer in common usage, which often have completely different meanings to that which we’d expect. To assist in this process, Text Consultant Professor Russell Jackson will be present throughout the first week of rehearsals. An academic and practitioner specialising in Shakespeare, he will act as a guide to the text, referring to various editions of the play. Michael comments that some scholars are purists, but not Russell - his is a practical, theatre-based approach to Shakespeare.
This, essentially, is Michael’s initial process - from translation to standing the play on its feet, putting the ‘broad brush strokes’ in place. He describes it as ‘table work standing up’ and concedes - especially for those new to the process - ‘It will feel unnerving getting up without much discussion’. On the issue of character research, Michael is consistent: ‘Back-story never killed anyone.’ He’s equally prepared to dispense with it, though, when necessary. ‘If something doesn’t work, just get rid of it.’
Ultimately, Michael wants to empower the cast in order to release them, enabling them to fully explore the play: ‘You should try and do as much excavation outside of rehearsals as possible so you can come in and play.’ This requires some basic preparatory work by the cast. ‘Familiarise yourself with lines by the start of rehearsals so you can experiment,’ encourages Michael. ‘Let’s make rehearsals about playing, not learning lines.’ He concludes his comments on process by observing that ‘part of the way I work needs to include absorption time'.
Michael suggests a readthrough at a later stage, ‘once we know who we are'. As part of the cast’s continuing research he thinks ‘it would be good to read through Henry IV Parts One and Two together'. Reference is also made to Orson Welles’ 1966 film Chimes at Midnight and the later My Own Private Idaho, made by Gus Van Sant in 1991 - both versions of the story of Falstaff and the young Henry.
Michael then returns to the play itself and its author, dating Henry V around 1595: ‘Mid-career. Shakespeare wrote it the same year as Hamlet – a writer at the height of his confidence.’ He makes this last point with reference to the staging, in particular the simplicity of the Chorus’ opening speech: ‘We’ve got nothing. Just actors on a bare stage.’ Michael re-iterates that the Chorus is part of the twenty-first century – ‘our world’ – in an attempt to keep it relevant to us. ‘The Boy comes out of his own story to talk to us. He then gets slaughtered and comes back as the Chorus.’ He describes the final scene of the play as ‘truly charming’: ‘The Chorus comes on and tells us how Henry’s son messes it all up – “It was hell!” – blackout!’
Michael maintains a constant check on fundamentals. ‘It’s about a group of actors telling a story. We must never lose the clarity of the storytelling. Ask yourselves what’s your “uber-intention”?’ He often describes his role as being, ‘if nothing else, to represent the audience'.
The initial discussion over, rehearsals begin in earnest with a session on Scene One, or ‘The Prologue'. Michael first considers the practical details: ‘I’ve got to work out one big thing – an announcement about mobiles.’ This impacts upon the opening moments of the performance. The initial idea is that the audience is thrown into darkness, out of which the Chorus walks forward – ‘Lights up in motion’. This leads to a crucial question: Is the Chorus stepping in or out of the action? Is he the Chorus or the Boy? ‘I love the impact of not knowing where the hell we are when the Chorus comes on,’ says Michael.
He wants a separate solo session with Ashley Zhangazha, playing the Chorus/Boy, to work through all his speeches. ‘You are my glue,’ Michael tells him. Considering his first appearance, he concludes: ‘There are two choices - you walk forward and take us all in, or the other is to come on talking… I can’t think that there’s a third choice.’ They explore the first one. ‘Use your walk to take us all in,’ he advises Ashley. ‘Come down and engage us.’
‘The energy of the speech is the hardest thing to crack,’ observes Michael. He comments on the ‘gear changes’ within it, ‘taking the relationship with the audience even further’. Russell agrees - ‘There’s a build in the scale.’ Michael encourages Ashley to find the rhythm of the speech, including the natural pauses: ‘Hold, hold, hold… Then move forward.’ He returns to the Chorus’ relationship with the audience, his need to ‘demand they sit forward… “This isn’t going to work unless you do the work”’. Michael reflects that the speech also works on the Chorus’ ‘imaginary senses’: ‘ “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i‘ th’ receiving earth…” Imagine it!’
The other elements of production are already being considered, from discussions with Movement Director Michael Ashcroft, to sound. Michael doesn’t think there’s any music in the first scene. ‘Possibly the lightest of textures,’ suggests Composer & Sound Designer Adam Cork. The lighting is also key. Michael favours something arresting: ‘Click and the light’s on. It says, “Wake up!” Like a light at home, not a fade.’ He asks himself if the lights should come down at the end of the Prologue? Questioning how that connects with what comes next. Michael wants to avoid ‘severing the connection between the Prologue and the rest of the play'. He suggests the Chorus may linger on stage, checking on the progress of the performance.
Directors often feel a need to ‘illustrate’ the Prologue, comments Michael, and he wonders whether he needs to introduce the company? ‘A version where all the actors come on at the start.’ The set is made up of a series of doors, which can be opened and closed in various configurations, and for the first scene the upstage double-doors will be open to reveal an image of the king being dressed in ceremonial robes – ‘Henry putting on the first layer of his kingship.’
The first session on Scene One over, work on the next scene begins. Scene Two features the Archbishop of Canterbury, played by Michael Hadley, and the Bishop of Ely, played by Richard Clifford, discussing the king and his right to invade France. ‘Shakespeare starts the play with the clergy,’ observes Michael. ‘How do we get God into it?’ He wonders whether a sound is needed to indicate that we’re into the world of the play? Bells, for example.
Michael discusses the opening of the scene with the two actors: ‘We join you in mid-conversation? It’s not two people coming on from either side of the stage continuing a conversation from earlier? It’s not a scene at the Garrick Club, over port and cigars?’ He suggests one character needs to be imparting something to the other. ‘It’s not interesting, dramatically, to have two people knowing the same thing.’ Michael Hadley agrees: ‘It’s more urgent than that. Canterbury is giving the information to Ely for him to broadcast.’ It’s established that Canterbury is Ely’s boss – ‘Who’s got the biggest cathedral?’ joke the two actors – and that Ely is less spiritual than Canterbury, being more temporal instead.
Reflecting on the clergy’s exchange, Russell suggests that ‘it’s a political scene'. Michael focuses on one of Canterbury’s lines, in response to Ely’s assertion that the king is a ‘true lover’ of the Church – ‘But is he enough of a lover?’ ‘An active question. Where does he stand that we, politically, can use it?’ He encourages Richard to invest in Ely’s line more: ‘If you believe it, it helps us, the audience, on page four of the play.’
There’s a discussion about whether Scene Two is a prequel to Scene Three, which continues the debate above, the king literally walking in on Canterbury and Ely’s conversation. Throughout Scene Two there’s the tableau upstage of Henry preparing himself for kingship – ‘Still, like a painting’. This is the man to whom the clergy keep referring. ‘The carnal part of Henry has been replaced by spirituality,’ reflects Michael. This leads to the question: How did Henry become a good king?
The actors in Scene Three join the rehearsal. Having read through the scene and translated it, Michael observes that the play ‘starts in debate – the king’s right to a land'. He describes Henry’s opening monologue as the ‘key speech of the play’ - his ‘manifesto’ and justification for invading France. But the king remains concerned with the morality as well as the legality of his actions. ‘Who’s going to be responsible for the blood?’ asks Michael. ‘Who’s going to answer for the souls?’ And, most important of all: ‘Who’s going to answer to God?’ In this way, he suggests, Henry becomes the ‘moral centre’ of the play.
In terms of performance, Michael considers the relationship between the king and clergy: ‘How intimate are the initial discussions between Henry and Canterbury, plus the others, before the arrival of Montjoy?’ He acknowledges the complexity of the explanation given by Canterbury about the king’s right to invade France - ‘We need time to tune in and absorb it.’
There follows an hour’s break for lunch. When the cast return to continue work on Scene Three the discussion centres on the role of God within the play and, more importantly, Henry’s decision-making. ‘You’ve twice invoked God as the prime mover,’ Michael comments to Jude, adding that such references – ‘In the name of God’ – are not made lightly. ‘You bring God into every part of the play. He is the weight of the responsibility of going to war and losing lives.’
Jude thinks Henry’s overriding questions are: ‘Is it legal? And is it OK in the eyes of God?’ Michael describes him as a ‘young king constantly doubting his rightful place'. He draws a comparison between Henry and an actor: ‘Searching for the truth – the knowledge that he has a right to be on the throne.’ Jude agrees, commenting that ‘being the son of a usurper weighs heavily upon him'.
‘The scene is at odds with itself,’ observes Michael. ‘At its centre is a young man trying to uncover God’s role, while God’s men – Canterbury and Ely – are playing politics and urging war.’ Henry’s choice is a stark one, he suggests. ‘Either to fold France into your empire or just destroy it.’ The stakes are not lost on the young king, says Jude: ‘If I return without France then I don’t deserve to be King of England.’ To which Michael adds the corollary - ‘If I win France then I am God’s divinely appointed.’
They consider the Dauphin’s scornful attitude towards Henry, in particular his mocking presentation of a gift of tennis balls to the English king. But, suggests Michael, the French prince has misjudged the situation and, more importantly, the man. ‘The Dauphin has sent a message to the wrong Henry - he’s sent them to Hal.’ Michael particularly likes the king’s response to this insult: ‘A brilliant layering of something that really delivers. It builds and builds with real precision and focus’.
He comments on the overall tone of the scene. ‘It’s more of a council chamber meeting,’ ascribing this to the ‘adversarial nature of France and England on this first appearance, when they’re on separate sides of the stage'. There’s some discussion about whether the throne should be on or off during the scene, whether it should be a presence throughout? ‘The throne represents the job,’ says Jude, reflecting on its symbolic significance.
The session over there are some technical notes about the pronunciation of certain words - for example, Canterbury and Henry’s reference to ‘Salic law’. ‘Are we going to hear the “t” on Agincourt?’ Russell asks, suggesting that we should. Michael’s main concern regarding all pronunciation is that it’s consistent throughout.
Rehearsals continue with a brief session on Scene Four, a short scene of just eleven lines featuring the Chorus. ‘My only problem with the Chorus,’ says Michael, ‘is that sometimes it feels as though Shakespeare’s forgotten him.’ They consider keeping him on stage, watching the action, during scenes two and three – ‘Observing a fairly sedentary scene.’ It’s in this scene that the Chorus becomes the Boy. ‘For the first time ever,’ reflects Russell, ‘the Chorus is one of the “Youth of England".'
Michael talks to Adam about incorporating some sound to underscore the latter part of the Chorus’ speech – Eastcheap coming to life. He tells Stage Management that he wants to call more actors the next time they rehearse this scene.
More members of the cast join rehearsals for Scene Five, the first set in Eastcheap, with Pistol, Bardolph, Nym and Mistress Quickly. Michael highlights the contrast between this scene and the preceding ones: ‘The first scenes are full of purpose. The writer has made us believe we’re all off to France, but there’s still this rather redundant society elsewhere in England.’
He questions who Bardolph and Nym, for example, are? ‘Do you live here? In this area?’ (It’s observed that ‘Nym’ means to steal.) Ron Cook, playing Pistol, is taking a reference to the petty thief as a ‘counterfeit rascal’ as inspiration for his interpretation of the character. ‘He’s someone who’s seen too many Christopher Marlowe plays!’ he quips. Referring to the impending war, Ron asks: ‘Are we expecting Falstaff to lead us to France?’ Here, suggests Michael, with the death of Falstaff, Shakespeare is bringing us back to one of the central characters of Henry IV Parts One and Two.
A key feature of this scene and the relationships between the characters is the underlying tension between Nym and Pistol - Pistol having just married Nym’s former lover, Mistress Quickly. ‘What would we gain if Pistol and Quickly were about to enter from the wedding itself?’ asks Michael. ‘Does it help? Does it colour it at all?’
In addition to discussing the play and characters, Michael maintains a focus on the practicalities of staging the scene: ‘Let that action be partly on the walk, to have you down on the diagonal when they enter.’ He considers every moment, including the ‘breath before a scene’ and comments ‘tonally’ on the developing performance, counseling actors not to ‘let it lose that edge'. At the end of the session, Michael reflects on the continuing exploration: ‘There’s a hundred and fifty questions I’ve got out of that, but I’m sure you’ve got more.’ In this way, discussions continue and new discoveries are made.
The day’s rehearsal ends with a session on Scene Six, another of the Chorus’ monologues. It’s noted that this speech has been cut in two. Michael asks Ashley to come on as the Boy, then turn to the audience as the Chorus. He describes this as ‘meshing in’ the two characters.
In terms of location, Michael sees no need to set the scene in an anonymous council chamber, but rather on the pier at Southampton where Henry and his men are about to embark. This leads to a technical consideration, Michael saying to Stage Management: ‘Note to Neil Austin [Lighting Designer] to open one of the doors and have a shaft of light come through.’ Adam also times the reading to calculate the length of any potential underscoring, commenting that he wants to ‘distinguish “Southampton” sonically'.
At the top of the speech, Michael encourages Ashley to ‘take the DNA of the previous scene into this one – there’s an underscoring of sadness about Falstaff dying'. He asks him to ‘colour the word “French”,' which leads Ashley to ask Michael what the Chorus’ attitude towards France should be? They discuss this, with Michael keeping a check on anything ‘that could be construed as us being jingoistic'.
He continually encourages Ashley to engage the audience in the telling of the story: ‘You’re looking out for those internal signals where you say to the audience, “Are you getting this, ladies and gentlemen?”’
In today’s rehearsal the action has shifted from the English to the French court. Scene Fourteen is a duologue between Katherine, daughter of the King of France, played by Jessie Buckley, and Alice, her lady-in-waiting, played by Noma Dumezweni, in which Alice attempts to teach Katherine English.
Richard Clifford, who plays Charles, King of France, is also present as he’s a fluent French speaker. He will record both Katherine and Alice’s lines so that Jessie and Noma can listen back to them in order to check the pronunciation. Richard comments that the English court would, in fact, have been able to speak French.
Work begins by translating all of the lines. Some key words require specific pronunciation – for example, ‘fingres’ (fingers) as ‘fangrers'. Michael describes this as a ‘four hundred-year-old joke’: ‘The ones in the audience who do know the words act as a contagion for the others, bringing them into it.’
He questions the tone of the scene, referring to its ‘lightness'. He describes this scene as bridging the ones before and after. ‘It discombobulates an audience – from a male, war-torn world to two women.’ Jessie wonders how aware Katherine is of the current political situation? She suggests she knows she’s being ransomed, hence the English lesson. ‘We, the audience, should know the context of this scene,’ reflects Michael. Jessie thinks Katherine sees the ‘union’ between her and Henry as an opportunity to get away from her family.
Michael and the actors then consider the setting. ‘I like the idea of this almost being a walk in the gardens, rather than an interior scene,’ says Michael. ‘It gives us an opportunity to flood the stage after the battles and bloodshed. The one thing we haven’t had yet, literally or metaphorically, is sunlight.’ There’s the suggestion of adding birdsong to the soundscape.
They run the scene, following which Michael comments: ‘That’s in a very good place already’. He looks at some specifics. ‘I think I want to encourage you to be more adventurous with “nails".' He’s keen to explore a version of the scene – ‘if only to cross it off’ – in which Katherine is more embarrassed than amused by the translation, possibly even shocked.
The actors run the scene again. ‘You used the space almost pitch-perfect,’ says Michael afterwards. ‘You somehow managed to find the bulk of the scene in the centre of the space. There was a real sense of you coming from somewhere, going to somewhere, and that this was just a place you were passing through. You weren’t walking on, doing the scene, then walking off.’
Rehearsals continue with the next scene, fifteen, in which the French king holds an emergency council of war and, it’s suggested, ‘psyches himself up'. Michael asks Richard: ‘What has happened since we, the audience, last saw you?’ The defeat at Harfleur is discussed, including the notion that the Dauphin is characterised as having failed France. This leads to questions about key events: Historically, was the Dauphin at Agincourt? These can usually be answered by Russell Jackson, otherwise Associate Director Lisa Blair will do further research.
Michael wants to try Scene Fifteen starting immediately after the previous one: ‘Do we have a moment where Katherine exits, laughing, and almost collides with her father? In most productions, this encounter wouldn’t happen.’ He encourages Richard and Jessie to ensure all the nuances of this moment, with Katherine ultimately headed for Henry, are played out before the audience - ‘Make sure whatever happens, it’s on stage.’ Ben Lloyd-Hughes, playing the Dauphin, highlights the fact that Katherine is also his sister, which adds another element to this encounter.
In this scene, says Michael, the audience ‘are invited to watch the French war machine and witness their incompetence'. He considers the scale of this and the previous scenes set in the French court: ‘I think there might be more to play with a smaller version. For our audience, it’s a nice shorthand for returning to the French council of war.’ Michael wants the actors to find the scene for themselves before adding other elements to it: ‘Bring us to your council of war and we will find the lighting for it.’
He particularly likes the setting. ‘It’s a nice juxtaposition – a war council that takes place in a garden.’ Reference is made to American presidents talking in the Rose Garden at the White House when they don’t want to be overheard, and Russell reminds everyone that the War of the Roses cycle of plays begin with a scene set in a garden. Michael thinks the outdoor setting gives Charles a better arc – ‘You’re not starting declamatory in a chamber.’ He asks the actors to help the audience: ‘You need to do something in your minds to tell us we’re in the same place as the previous scene.’
As ever, Michael maintains the balance between discussing story and characters and focusing on the practicalities of blocking. ‘Come down the centre,’ he suggests to one actor. ‘Would it help you if one of the others came downstage so you could do the line on the diagonal?’ He works with Richard to find the journey of Charles’ speech: ‘Ask the question “Where is Montjoy the herald?” and then build.’
Michael will often say of scenes ‘there’s a version where…’ and consider an alternative, always thinking about the clarity of the storytelling for the audience – ‘Help us'. At the end of the session, he comments to the actors: ‘You’re in a good place there, investing the lines with real thought and feeling.’
Michael then moves on to Scene Sixteen, the last one before the interval in this production, in which we see an exhausted Henry and his army much in need of rest. ‘This is rather a large scene in terms of what it explores,’ he observes. ‘It’s also, potentially, quite a lazy one for a director because it never defines itself as a place. We need to know where we are - we’re not just coming on to play a scene.’ Michael considers the fundamentals: ‘What’s the most important function of this scene? To show how ramshackle the British army are. If anything, we want this to be England rusting in the rain – the rain, the rust, the shit, the mire.’ Other elements of production can support this interpretation. ‘We can establish the feeling of rain,’ says Adam.
‘It’s the first time Henry’s down at heel,’ comments Jude. ‘There’s a sense of passing on the road, of real movement in this scene.’ Michael summarises it as the ‘English in transit’: ‘The movement contrasts nicely with the English being camped, being stationary, in the next scene.’ He discusses ‘traffic’ across the stage with Movement Director Michael Ashcroft, telling DSM Rhiannon Harper which extra ‘bodies’ he wants to call to the next rehearsal. Michael (Ashcroft) suggests having all of the doors open and a discussion about the lighting concludes that it should be low – ‘Head-height only'.
Working through the scene, Michael asks Harry Atwell, playing Gower, to clarify the setting: ‘Just to help locate us, when you say “the bridge", remind me which bridge we’re talking about.’ Its strategic significance is discussed. ‘Winning the bridge means they can camp,’ says Michael Hadley (Canterbury). Jude adds to this: ‘It also means they can cross the river.’
Michael questions Ron Cook, as Pistol, and Matt Ryan, playing Fluellen, about the interpretation of their initial exchange: ‘Tonally, are you sure that’s not quite a touching moment when you both talk of Bardolph?’ While being aware of the fatigue the characters are experiencing, Michael warns the actors against this becoming the dominant factor. ‘There’s a lack of engagement to do with being tired, but in that moment they do connect.’ Jude reflects on the impact on Henry of giving the order to execute his old friend, Bardolph, for stealing: ‘There’s a moment where it costs him, killing one of his own men.’
In Michael’s production the function of the messenger has been given to the French ambassador, Montjoy. It’s agreed that he arrives at a low point for the British army, with Henry, in Jude’s description, ‘down at heel'. ‘We never know what Montjoy thinks of his duty,’ reflects Michael. It’s noted that he distances himself from his message more than, for example, Exeter does. Jude is keen to discuss Henry and Montjoy’s relationship, suggesting he regards Montjoy well: ‘It’s another grace note of Henry being a gentleman.’ Of Henry’s admission of his army’s weakness, Adam Cork wonders if he’s simply lulling France into a false sense of security - ‘Is he playing possum?’
‘Through admission of weakness, Henry grows in strength,’ says Jude. In doing so, suggests Michael, he rallies his mind: ‘Henry gains confidence through his speech. Through self-awareness and self-confession, you arrive at where you are – you transform yourself. You go on a personal journey through self-knowledge to arrive at something yourself.’ Russell adds a further observation about Henry’s speech: ‘You go from “I” to “we".' Reflecting on it afterwards, Jude comments: ‘I need to figure out a few of those direct commands.’ Michael reassures him - ‘There’s definitely a whole heap of colours there.’
They get to the end of the scene. ‘The reason I like this place for an interval is it’s a wonderful cliffhanger,’ says Michael. Jude agrees: ‘It’s a real, “What’s he going to do?” moment.’ Michael is pleased with the progress they’ve made today, saying to the cast: ‘Write down what you did there because it was naturally very beautiful. There was a lot of good storytelling.’
Having worked through the whole play last week, Michael and the cast are now revisiting each scene and rehearsing them in more detail.
This afternoon’s session begins with a recap of scenes four and six, both featuring the Chorus. Michael wants to ensure Scene Four follows on immediately from the previous scene, which ends with an impassioned speech by Henry. ‘Make sure there’s an invisible thread with his exit,’ he tells Ashley. ‘You come in as he goes.’ Michael considers supporting this with lights and sound – ‘We’ll do a swipe into Eastcheap.’
He thinks the Chorus should take a lead from the passion of Henry’s previous speech: ‘Are you not more convinced at the top? “Now all the youth of England are on fire…” Because of what you and we, the audience, have just seen? Jude Law’s Henry, here and now. You’ve observed your, and our, king. The country could have done one of two things: said, “Oh, no! Not war". But they don’t. They go, “Yes!”’ Ashley agrees - ‘It’s more active, charged.’
Michael suggests to him: ‘You need to enjoy finding his personality a little more.’ He then gives Ashley some specific notes on the speech: ‘“Now sits expectation…” Bring it down more… Have a view on “silken dalliance”… You could just start a little bit under and a beat extra, to allow for Henry’s exit.’
Working through Scene Six, Michael highlights the Chorus’ reference to ‘three corrupted men', which is vital to the next scene – ‘Let’s have that. Help us.’
Work then begins on Scene Seven, in which the three corrupted men – Cambridge, Scroop and Grey – are revealed as traitors, having conspired with France to bring about Henry’s downfall. They run the scene once, following which Michael makes several observations, starting with the stage and blocking: ‘It lends itself to adversarial combat because of its width. It helps separate Henry’s loyal followers from the treacherous ones.’
He considers the king’s entrance, saying to Jude: ‘So you could shake their hands, if that’s what you’re doing - be part of them, unnerve them.’ Michael turns to Ian Drysdale, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Harry Atwell, playing Cambridge, Scroop and Grey: ‘As people who are doing wrong in the name of right, do you carry any of that with you in your demeanor? It’s worth remembering that you’re three very important characters in our narrative, so it’s nice to have all these colours in there.’
Returning to the text, Michael asks James Laurenson, playing Exeter: ‘Who is the “his” in your line, “the man that was his bedfellow”?’ It’s clarified that this refers to Henry (‘his’) and Scroop (‘the man’), whom Jude describes as ‘the closest of the close friends'. Michael wants to ensure the storytelling is clear among Henry’s loyal followers: ‘It’s tonal, what I’m saying here. The stage is alive with debate. Things like Cambridge’s line could evoke a look - you could help us there. Any help we can have while the king is getting on with the traitors is good.’ Although he warns them against overstating it: ‘We’re not doing nod-nod, wink-wink just yet. Don’t let’s play the “cajunk” moment.’
Michael focuses on Henry’s journey through the scene, with reference to the text: ‘It certainly needs a change of tack, “Uncle of Exeter. / Enlarge the man committed yesterday..." ' This introduces the theme of showing mercy to those who have been disloyal to the king. To help him with the interpretation of a line, Michael suggests Jude ‘attach a “why?” to, “Alas, your too much love and care of me..." ' Later in the same speech, he encourages him to link ‘French causes’ and ‘the late commissioners’ in, ‘And now to our French causes: / Who are the late commissioners?’ As ever, Michael seeks to make the meaning as clear as possible: ‘How do you help our audience understand who the “late commissioners” are?’
Turning to Cambridge and his co-conspirators, he urges them not to read the papers handed them until Henry instructs them to do so. He particularly likes the way Jude cuts off his own line when seeing their reaction: ‘We will aboard tonight. – Why, how now gentleman! / What see you in those papers that you lose / So much complexion? Look ye, how they change! / Their cheeks are paper.’ ‘I like your invitation to our audience to watch three men going white.’
Michael outlines the traitors’ predicament, explaining that they’ve been handed a signed confession that absolutely proves their guilt, while demonstrating the resourcefulness of Henry’s loyal followers: ‘They’re steps ahead - they’ve got the paperwork, everything. You’ve walked into a trap.’ He notes that Shakespeare hasn’t written much pleading or begging on the traitors’ behalf – ‘No one even tries to run away!’
Michael encourages Jude to tear into his speech and the traitors: ‘It’s relentless. Keep going.’ He wonders if all the details are filled in and made clear for an audience? ‘If we listen to it, do we get the back-story of you and Scroop?’ Michael considers Henry’s lines: ‘But O, / What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop? thou cruel, / Ingrateful, savage, and inhuman creature!’ ‘It’s a deep moment of raw emotion between the two of you.’ ‘For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like / Another fall of man.’ – ‘That’s how huge it is.’ Looking at Henry’s final dismissal of the traitors – ‘God quit you in His mercy!’ - Michael asks: ‘Is there a case for that last speech being, “Oh, shut up!”’
Discussion returns to Henry’s attitude towards himself as king. ‘The idea that you don’t believe in your own legitimacy until you get a sign from God,’ says Michael. ‘That sign is victory at Agincourt - that’s a big theme of the play. Until then, you’re still auditioning.’ Jude comments on Henry’s vulnerability at this point: ‘He’s very mortal and he’s very open.’
Rehearsals continue with a session on Scene Nine, set in the French court. The location is the first detail to be discussed: Is it the court or parliament? ‘Could this be a council chamber with a lot of people present?’ asks Michael. ‘We could add reverb on voices, but my question is: What would be the difference? We’re clearly supposed to go from England to the great debating chamber in France. Or do we make it smaller? My ear tells me it’s written for a bigger space. We just need to decide what that would give us as a benefit.’
He also focuses on relationships. ‘Can I just ask a couple of questions here about building character?’ The dynamic between the characters is discussed: ‘There’s history – “previous” – between the Constable and the Dauphin.’ Michael encourages them to share this back-story with the audience: ‘It’s usually best when you create something on stage for an audience, rather than bringing something on with which we then have to play catch-up.’
‘Is he a weak man, King Charles?’ Michael asks Richard Clifford. ‘Or just fearful in this moment?’ They consider this, Michael concluding: ‘A man who is rightly fearful in this moment is a good choice. Why wouldn’t he be? It shows his humanity.’ Richard reflects on Charles in relation to the Dauphin: ‘My weakness I show in my relationship with my son.’ Michael questions Charles’ priorities - the ‘king comes first, the father second’? He encourages Richard to keep his monologues alive: ‘Find a way of driving that so it doesn’t end as a speech.’
Looking at other moments in the scene, Michael suggests to Prasanna Puwanarajah, playing Montjoy, that he should be ‘oblivious to what’s going on’ between Charles and the Dauphin. He also advises Ben, as the Dauphin, that, ‘“Turn head, and stop pursuit” is a snatched moment before Exeter arrives'. Michael wonders who Exeter delivers his documents to? Charles or one of his followers? ‘Has the King of France already made a deal with the English?’ he asks. The consensus among the cast is ‘not yet'.
He encourages all the actors to wrestle the sense from the lines, commenting to James Laurenson (Exeter): ‘The invisible chord gets dropped between “message” and “unless” in, “This is his claim, his threat’ning, and my message; / Unless the Dauphin be in presence here..."' Michael reflects on the Dauphin’s rash reply to Exeter: ‘This guy’s a loose canon. He admits to the enemy that he and his father are at odds.’
Michael always approaches a scene from several different angles - ‘Can we just try a version where…’ - making sure everyone understands what they’re doing and saying: ‘Clarity. Anything in there that anyone’s unclear about?’ Michael’s happy with where they’ve got to by the end of the session, having something to return to. ‘I think it’s always best to leave the discussion in the air,’ he says. ‘To go away, let it percolate, then come back later and attack it.’
The next session returns to scenes six and ten, featuring the Chorus. Starting with Scene Six, Michael reflects on the difference between this Chorus scene and the previous ones: ‘This is taking us on for once, rather than commenting on something that’s gone before.’ The focus shifts at the beginning - ‘Now it’s “The French”, as opposed to this lot, the English, going off.’
He thinks it a very compacted scene: ‘This one just feels like a lot of info. It almost needs an, “OK, listen up…” at the beginning.’ Michael wonders whether he and Adam should create something to help this? Before rejecting the idea in favour of Ashley himself – ‘No, you’re the link.’
Michael encourages him to maintain the stillness and focus – ‘Not too much flitting around.’ He advises Ashley to drive through the speech, commenting that the Chorus is always on the front foot: ‘He’s not a contemplative character.’ He then works through the speech with Ashley, commenting on specific lines: ‘“And three corrupted men…” Tonally it’s being a little bit huge and it needs to be a little more colloquial - help us. Away from France, big countries, to individuals… I think it’s good that you remind us, the audience, that you represent us. “O England!” A line for now, with all our Europe thing. It’s still pertinent. Set that little bit of tension more, for the dramatic purposes of this play – we might not win. Otherwise there’s no tension to our narrative… I think “hell” and “treason” you need to pick out more.’
Michael works with Ashley to get the sense of the lines. ‘Take out those dashes for a moment, we lose the thread otherwise. Punctuation is the enemy in Shakespeare.’ As an idea, he proposes typing up a Shakespearean play without any punctuation in it at all, allowing the actors to add it instead.
Ashley then runs Scene Ten, following which Michael gives notes. ‘A little bit too fast, if I’m honest. Because we’re only in the second week, the words aren’t quite catching up with the thoughts.’ He focuses on specific words and phrases: ‘“Follow, follow!” A gear change to something more focused. Re-group with us, it needs something more rooted.’ Michael describes the Chorus’ use of the word ‘suppose’ as ‘an invitation to imagine'. Later he thinks he gave Ashley a ‘bum steer’ by suggesting a pause or beat before ‘Follow, follow!’ – ‘It’s all the same thing.’
By the end of the session, Ashley is beginning to feel the frustration of not having other actors or an audience to interact with, but Michael’s pleased with his progress: ‘Good, Ashley, you’re making complete sense of it - the speeches are taking shape. We just have to make sure we don’t peak too early.’ He gives him one last piece of advice: ‘Remember you’re talking to somebody. I know you’re talking to nine hundred people, but you have to start with just one person.’
In today’s rehearsal, Michael and the cast return to Scene Twenty-Six, focusing on the altercation between Fluellen and Williams, played by Matt Ryan and Norman Bowman. Movement Director Michael Ashcroft is giving advice about the physical contact between the two. With regard to one actor striking another, Michael comments: ‘I would always prefer not to hit on the face.’
They run the scene, following which Michael encourages Matt to ‘keep the anxiety'. Of Williams’ outspoken comments, Michael observes to the other characters: ‘The honesty of the way he’s talking, so directly, is something you’re not used to in the presence of the king.’ He focuses on details of stagecraft: ‘It’d be great to bring it down here a little bit, and you can help with that… A bit more volume there, a bit more presentation.’ There’s a discussion about the business of giving Williams the money, Michael considering the various options – ‘There’s another version, if you want…’ Of which Jude asks: ‘What’s cleaner?’
Being the third week of rehearsals, the cast are attempting to be ‘off-book’ – having learnt their lines and therefore no longer needing to use their scripts. However, actors occasionally ask Rhiannon, the DSM, for a prompt and Michael also corrects mistakes. One actor, he notes, has a habit of ‘inverting your sentences'. At the end of the session, Michael tells the cast: ‘Look at the lines, all of you, in that’.
Towards the end of the day’s rehearsal they run through everything they did earlier. ‘It’ll probably help me more than it’ll help you, to find the arc of it,’ comments Michael. It will also help him decide the rehearsal schedule for next week, in terms of which scenes or moments he and the cast need to focus on.
Michael encourages the actors to ‘find the tone’ of scenes when running them. Of the St Crispin Day’s speech, he asks them to ‘play with what you get'. Afterwards, Michael thinks the runthrough worthwhile: ‘I made a lot of notes, of things I think we can excavate in scenes. It’s in a good place with the lines, which means we can rehearse. It means we can dissect and analyse.’ He suggests that he and Jude do another solo session together, then asks all the cast to return to their scripts over the weekend – ‘This is the place where mistakes can be learnt as facts.’
There follows a brief session looking at the transition between scenes fourteen and fifteen, with Katharine and Alice going off and the French king and his counsel coming on. ‘Hold on to your position at the end,’ Michael says to Richard (Charles). ‘Don’t let that haste lose its authority. It’s about him finding his authoritative voice.’
Week four of rehearsals and there’s a different pace to proceedings – it’s more focused, concentrated. Nearly all the cast are present to work on the larger scenes towards the end of the play. Michael asks them if they need a warm-up before commencing the Battle of Agincourt, but most of them have already done their own individual ones.
They run the scene, following which Michael works briefly with Ron Cook (Pistol), Jason Baughan, playing the French Captain, and Ashley (Boy), on Scene Twenty-Three - a short scene in which Pistol extorts money from the French Captain in return for his life. ‘Don’t let your fear plateau out,’ Michael warns Jason. He gives a general note about the energy needed to find each new line, such as Pistol’s calling to the Boy – ‘Come hither boy.’
Meanwhile, the other actors wait on the edges of the space, quietly discussing other scenes or running lines. Moving on to Scene Twenty-Six, and accompanying ones set during the battle, Michael comments that they need to present the ‘general mess of warfare'. He encourages all of the cast to invest in the scenes, asking for ‘more reaction and indeed a vocalisation’ in response to Henry’s line, ‘The French have reinforc’d their scatter’d men'. Michael acknowledges that other elements, such as sound and music, will help create the atmosphere necessary: ‘I’m hoping this is the last time we do this without any support for you in the room.’ He’s pleased with what they’ve achieved – ‘Very, very good. Helpful, all of it.’
To support the transition between scenes, Michael, Michael Ashcroft and the cast have created a series of ‘wipes’ – movements across the stage to mark the different stages of the battle and the passage of time. He considers the context of one of the wipes – that Henry’s army aren’t as energised as before, the king warning them that they’re not finished yet. ‘Are you all clear, individually, what your intentions are?’ Michael asks the cast. ‘Your journey out of that scene into the next one – knowing physically and vocally where you are? It’s the wipe we’ve worked on least. There’s a hangover of a hiatus – having to start the battle noise on stage, whereas all the previous ones start off and come on. Have we even given this wipe a name?’
After another skirmish, Henry and his soldiers are exhausted, trying to catch their breath. Michael is mindful the actors achieve the right effect, in terms of their breathing: ‘Be careful that the punching out of the vocal isn’t comic.’ He considers the aftermath of the fighting – ‘Make sure the debris of it is quite full.’ Michael suggests Henry’s army progresses ‘from supreme tension to something simply tense, but not relaxing completely'.
He pauses to reflect on the historical records of the events depicted in the play, in particular the fighting: ‘Just think of all the people who took part in such extraordinary events who couldn’t write. You long for an account by one of the soldiers who survived that battle.’
Michael’s keen to re-cap: ‘Let’s just look at the first part of that scene before we go on.’ Afterwards, he focuses on the moment where Montjoy reveals that Henry and his army have won: ‘I had a whole heap of mini-concerns about who should sink to their knees first. I suppose that doesn’t really matter, but the getting up is a different thing – who’s leading who?’ Michael agrees with Jude that an exchange between Henry and Fluellen shouldn’t be diminished by the king rising too soon – ‘Tell us that story,’ says Michael. He also highlights the significance of the moment: ‘We, the audience, realise we’ve just witnessed the victory of the Battle of Agincourt – it’s just landed upon us.’
He then turns his attention to the exchange between Fluellen and Williams, which is the conclusion of an earlier quarrel between the latter and a disguised Henry, involving the swapping of gauntlets as a token of hostility – one of which Fluellen places in his hat-band. ‘What did our author intend here?’ ponders Michael. ‘He must have intended some humour.’ In summoning Williams, Michael requests that Jude ‘help us understand a little bit that that’s an aside, “Call yonder fellow hither”’.' Jude then asks: ‘How public do I make the pardoning of Williams?’ Michael suggests he ‘bring Exeter in’ to support this moment.
There follows a marked change of topic with Westmoreland’s entrance, the list of the dead in his hand. Michael highlights the challenge of getting from one moment to the next, while continuing to ensure the storytelling’s clear from an audience’s point of view: ‘There’s a blocking issue there - I don’t see Exeter receive the list.’ He focuses on the final exchange between Henry and Fluellen. ‘There’s a shift tonally with what Fluellen says – “Is it not lawful, and please your majesty, to tell how many is killed?" ' Michael focuses on the end of the scene, asking Jude: ‘Are you sure that’s not a movement there? Keep on driving that through.’
After a quick tea break, the cast run everything they’ve done so far today, following which Michael gives brief general notes: ‘There are a few things there that we need to be careful of dropping… Help us.’
They then go back to the start of Scene Twenty-Nine, in which a victorious Henry negotiates the terms of the peace treaty with the defeated French king. Michael reflects on the opening of the scene, talking to Richard: ‘I think at the beginning don’t pull it into being a domestic scene.’ He comments on the challenges presented by it: ‘A potential problem of this scene is its static nature, in particular the Archbishop’s speech.’ Michael asks the cast to respond to what Canterbury says: ‘Help the audience during his speech, making sure grace notes cross the face. Help us with anything you have a view on.’ He considers the tone of the scene with regard to the terms of the treaty imposed by Henry: ‘England could have played this moment in a different way. You’ve chosen a humanitarian, diplomatic route instead.’
He then focuses on the ‘wooing scene’ between Henry and Katherine, which is at the heart of Scene Twenty-Nine. ‘Tonally, it’s hard,’ observes Michael. ‘It’s difficult to know the tone of this scene – the joy is shared with a large group of people.’ Watching a run through, Michael discusses Henry’s focus in the scene with Jude: ‘You were playing more with us than with her. There’s nothing that he does that’s for us only.’ He reflects on the playfulness of the exchange: ‘There’s something about us enjoying those moments when you’re trying to talk to her.’ Jude comments on Katherine’s intention, a sense of her saying to Henry: ‘Dance for me, little dog!’ Michael observes of the king: ‘This scene is about you being all over the shop.’ Jude’s keen to explore the playfulness between Henry and Katherine and Michael encourages both to ‘make sure it’s fun – more teasing'.
He discusses the subtlety of the scene with Jessie Buckley (Katherine). ‘The horror with which you recoil from the inappropriateness of being kissed shouldn’t be too big. It’s all by degree.’ Equally, he comments: ‘If the wind breathes in the wrong direction we can misunderstand her.’ Michael listens attentively throughout rehearsals, picking up on momentary lapses in concentration: ‘Was it me who slightly switched off while listening, or did it reach one level for you?’
They then go back again and run the battle scene, up to Scene Twenty-Nine. ‘I want to make sure we run that sequence of events,’ says Michael. Afterwards, he comments on the action feeling more connected: ‘You, the actors, were more relaxed, which made it easier for the characters.’
Henry V by William Shakespeare (Michael Grandage Company, Ltd., 2013)
The text of MGC’s 2013 production of the play at the Noel Coward Theatre.
Many other editions, with introductions and commentaries, are available.
The following books were in the rehearsal room for Henry V:
Agincourt 1415 – Matthew Bennet (Osprey, 1991)
Medieval Design (Pepin Press)
Medieval Costume and Fashion – Herbert Norris (Dover, 1999)
Western European Costume – Thirteenth to Seventeenth Century – Volume One – Iris Brooke (George Harrap, 1939)
Medieval Costume in England and France – The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries – Mary G. Houston (Dover, 1939)
English Costume of the Later Middle Ages –The Fourteenth & Fifteenth Centuries – Iris Brooke (A&C Black, 1935)
The History and Meaning of Heraldry – Stephen Slater (Southwater, 2003)