BETWEEN them, the Shakespeare’s Globe cast for the three Henry VI plays must divvy up 160 characters among 14 players.
The balancing act of matching performers to parts has fallen to director Nick Bagnall, whose premiere of his two-hour versions of Shakespeare’s trio of history plays, Harry The Sixth, The Houses Of York & Lancaster and The True Tragedy Of The Duke Of York, open at York Theatre Royal this week.
Twelve of those roles go to Garry Cooper, who also happens to be Bagnall’s co-artistic director at the Milton Rooms in Malton (but that is another on-going story), while Beatriz Romilly will play five, including two men, one of them known simply as A Rebel.
“But I call him Bernard; I think it must be my male ego coming out,” jokes Beatriz, who last appeared on the Theatre Royal stage as the Princess of Spain, the “powerful, spunky heroine” (to quote The Press review) in The Three Musketeers And The Princess Of Spain in November 2010.
Garry is a vastly experience actor making his Globe debut. “I play Gloucester mainly and lots of small parts. I have 12 costumes at the moment, and with so many changes, I never stop moving,” he says.
“My characters range from a very camp Messenger and a Spirit to various Lords and the Protector of the Realm, Gloucester, ‘the top lord’!”
Bagnall’s production of these Wars Of The Roses plays will be suitably all-action. “In the first play no-one leaves the stage, so everything happens before the audience’s eyes; in the second, costume changes are off stage; in the third, it’s back to everything happening on stage,” says Garry.
If the physical demands of these multiple role-playing performances were not considerable already – especially on the three Saturdays when all three plays will be staged – the cast has further duties to perform. “We have lots of percussion in the plays, which we play ourselves. There’s drumming, trumpeting, singing, and I play clarinet,” says Beatriz. “I haven’t played it since I was about to do Grade 3 exam, when my music teacher died of a heart attack and I decided to stop there and then.
“We’ll also be using the set as percussion, so it was handy to have the set in place for last week’s rehearsals to play around with.”
Beatriz, who has performed previously for Shakespeare’s Globe in Doctor Faustus and God Of Soho, will play Joan of Arc in Part One; Gloucester’s wife Duchess Eleanor and the aforementioned Rebel in Part Two; and Northumberland – her second male character – and the recently widowed Lady Grey in Part Three. “She marries Edward IV so I end up as a queen (Queen Elizabeth)” she says.
Part of the pleasure of performing these plays is the combinations that director Nick Bagnall has created, such as Garry and Beatriz’s series of partnerships. “We play man and wife, Gloucester and Duchess Eleanor, and I also play Joan of Arc’s father, Shepherd, and in the last play I’m Rivers, Lady Grey’s brother, so the casting has been very cleverly nuanced,” says Garry. “I even play a Spirit in one Beatriz’s Duchess Eleanor scenes too.”
Seven weeks of rehearsals at the Union Chapel in Islington and Three Mills Studios in London’s East End preceded the company’s arrival in York on Monday for technical and dress rehearsals before Harry The Sixth opened the production run last night. Time spent working on the Henry plays has only enhanced Garry’s admiration for Nick’s length-trimming adaptations.
“It’s fantastic what Nick has done, keeping all the really important stuff, and still creating a sense of their world without losing anything while crucially telling the story in a non-confusing way,” he says.
Henry VI: Three Plays will continue its travels until September before opening at the Globe’s London home, and the production is turning out to be as rewarding as Beatriz hoped. “It’s an amazing experience,” she says.
“I never would have said ‘No’ to doing it! I remember thinking at my audition, ‘even if I don’t get it, I definitely want to work with this director in the future’.”
Instead, she is working with Nick Bagnall now, enjoying the experience of history in the making as Shakespeare’s Globe opens a show in the historic city of York for the first time.
• Shakespesare’s Globe presents Henry VI: Three Plays, York Theatre Royal, from this week until July 13, plus an open-air performance at Towton Battlefield on July 14. Each of the three plays lasts two hours, presented at separate performances and in sequence on June 29, July 6 and July 13. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
Please note, “for a completely new theatre experience”, Nick Bagnall’s production will “bring you closer to the action by raising the stalls seating”.
Open-air marathon at battlefield
SHAKESPEARE’S Globe’s first visit to York Theatre Royal will conclude with an open-air marathon performance of all three Henry VI plays on a single day at Towton Battlefield on Sunday, July 14.
“This will be an unprecedented theatrical event, exploring the links between English history, English literature and English landscape,” says Emma Draper, the Globe’s senior press and PR officer.
“The Battle of Towton remains the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil – it is believed to have claimed 28,000 lives during eight hours of brutal hand-to-hand combat in the midst of a snowstorm.”
Shakesepeare’s Globe will be touring Shakespeare’s “first blockbuster history sequence” under the plays’ original titles of Harry The Sixth, The Houses Of York & Lancaster and The True Tragedy Of The Duke Of York around Britain from their York premiere to September and a London run at the Globe will follow.
The Towton trilogy starts at 12.30pm; the second play is at 4pm; the third at 7.30pm and the event concludes at 9.45pm.
The audience capacity is 300. Audience members should wear waterproof clothing and bring layers, in case weather conditions are cold, and sunscreen, should the day be hot. No umbrellas, please, as these block the view, but come armed with rugs or low-backed seating and a picnic.
More information is available at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/shows/henry_vi_towton.php#.Ucqw7DuOS5I
Box office: 01904 623568.
Who was the Henry VI?
To coincide with the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays in York, University of East Anglia History and Literature student Victoria Finan, from Monk Fryston, near Selby, gives a potted history.
AFTER a year marked with historical debate over Richard III, York’s attention now turns to the Lancastrian Henry VI, who reigned over England during the first turbulent years of the Wars of the Roses.
From today until July 13, Shakespeare’s Globe are bringing their production of the Bard’s trilogy to York Theatre Royal, concluding with a special performance at Towton Battlefield on July 14. Yet in comparison to the chivalric Edward IV and the mysterious Richard III, their predecessor has become one of those monarchs that history seems to have, perhaps unfairly, forgotten.
Henry VI had a bad start to his kingship, to say the least. His father, Henry V, who famously defeated the French at Agincourt, died in 1422 when his son was only nine months old. For the first 15 years of his reign the country was led by a Regency Council of the King’s uncles, whose many arguments and disastrous attempts to conquer France left a turbulent England for the young King to begin to rule himself.
Unlike his father, Henry VI was not born to be a warrior king. He was an immensely pious man who disliked all forms of violence.
He also suffered from severe mental illness throughout his reign. Historians have debated his diagnosis, but it seems likely Henry may have had catatonic schizophrenia, which left him unable to rule for months on end in 1453.
His cousin, Richard, Duke of York, ruled the country in his wake much to the chagrin of the Queen, the unpopular Margaret of Anjou. This led to an intense rivalry between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions, with Richard, Duke of York finally deciding to stake his claim to the throne.
The first battle of the Wars of the Roses ensued at St Albans, Hertfordshire in 1455. In the first major test of his reign, Henry failed miserably and was captured by the Yorkists. However, the typically feisty Margaret took matters into her own hands, raised an army and managed to defeat the Yorkists, culminating in the death of Richard at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460.
Peace did not last for long, however, and in 1461 on the outskirts of Towton, Henry was captured following the bloodiest battle to take place on British soil, whereupon Richard’s heir, the “glorious sun of York”, Edward IV, ascended the throne.
Henry went into exile in France, but his scheming Queen ensured his return to the throne in 1470, where he was used as a puppet king by the highly ambitious Earl of Warwick. However, his return was short-lived as once again Edward usurped his position in 1471. Henry VI died a lonely death in the Tower of London, probably under the orders of Edward IV.
For years after his death, and especially during Tudor rule, Henry VI was regarded as something of a saint, with various shrines attributed to him. Now, Shakesperare’s Globe brings his story to the fore in York once more.