Arts & Culture
The Bard Goes to Brooklyn: BAM and the RSC Celebrate Shakespeare
New Production Include Richard II; Henry IV, Parts I and II; and Henry V
Audiences will be reminded once again of the timelessness of William Shakespeare's work when the Royal Shakespeare Company presents new productions of Richard II; Henry IV, Parts I and II; and Henry V at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York next spring.
“Shakespeare manages to articulate what the human experience is, and that's what makes his plays so continually resonant," says Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the RSC. Doran directs all four of the plays in the tetralogy, which is being presented as King and Country: Shakespeare's Great Cycle of Kings, part of a year-long commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death.
There is no evidence to suggest that Shakespeare himself conceived of the four plays as a cycle, but presenting the Henriad, as it is sometimes called, is a tradition at the RSC, the eminent theater company based in the playwright's hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Prior to its engagement in New York, the RSC's King and Country cycle will play in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Doran is confident that Shakespeare's so-called History plays will easily transcend the specifics of their period and, indeed, English history. “The plays are about conflict, about going to war; they are about growing up and what it is like to face a crisis – whether it is in battle or in your life," says the director.
From Shakespeare's 16th century perspective, Richard II, a lyric verse tragedy in which the 14th century English monarch is deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, could be viewed as a meditation on the divine right of kings. Doran offers a contemporary viewpoint: “It's a play about regime change. Someone who thinks he has a God-given right to power attempts to cling on to that power beyond its sell-by date."
How Shakespeare Reflects Society
The two parts of Henry IV depict Henry's consolidation of power after he overthrows Richard II, and the coming of age of his son Hal, who prefers to hang out with the reprobate Falstaff and his drinking pals rather than attend to business at court. “The plays give you an extraordinary panorama of the entire society – from the working boy in the pub to the King; from the prostitutes to the country justice," says Doran.
“I think what is really surprising is the breadths of points of view within the plays," he continues. Henry V, in which the former wayward prince, now king, decides to wage war against France, has been appropriated over the years to suit a variety of political viewpoints. Laurence Olivier's 1944 movie version was shaped as a patriotic morale booster for the troops fighting in World War II, while Kenneth Branagh's 1984 RSC production, also a movie, made a passionate antiwar statement at a time when Britain was debating its role in the recent Falklands War. In the play, on the eve of the decisive Battle of Agincourt, the King in disguise mingles with his soldiers and gets into a debate with one of them about whether they should be fighting a war at all; the next morning he exhorts his troops to win a glorious victory in the battle.
“If you attend to Shakespeare you'll find that these plays have a subtle kaleidoscope of opinions," notes Doran. “What is most resonant for me is how they make you follow the debate and defy you to decide who is right and who is wrong. What I wasn't expecting from Henry V is how moving it is," he adds. “When they do the roll-call of the French dead it very simply points to the human cost that war involves."
“Only a company like the RSC that can put something like this together," says Doran. “The company members feel a passionate sense of ownership and investment in the plays and there's a depth of quality in the performers you see on stage, their ease with the language and debate. I can't think of a better way of celebrating the genius of comedy, tragedy and political debate that is William Shakespeare."
Chase cardholders will have advance access to purchase tickets for Richard II, Henry IV Parts I&II and Henry V at BAM. The Chase Advance Sale will begin on Thursday, December 3rd at 10:00AM and will end on Sunday, December 6th at midnight. Available to Chase cardholders with use of a Chase credit or debit card. Maximum eight (8) tickets, offer is subject to availability. Sales are subject to handling and/or facility fees.
To purchase: http://www.bam.org/theater/2016/king-and-country-shakespeares-great-cycle-of-kings; Use code: CHASE.
Gerard Raymond writes about the arts and travel and lives in New York City. He is the Contributing Editor/Senior Writer for "Broadway Direct."