On June 6th I attended an afternoon performance of The life of Henry the Fift (No that's not a typo,
it really is Fift), directed by Richard Olivier and featuring the Artistic Director of the Globe, Mark Rylance
as Prince Hal. The company had decided to make the production as authentic as possible, and like Shakespeare's
company did not include any women in the cast. Female characters were played by young men or boys. The actors were
entirely dressed in recreated clothing of the period. "No Calvin Klein underwear here" said the designer
Jenny Tiramani. The stage was covered in a layer of rushes. There was no scenery.
While most playgoers found their seats, and the "groundlings" wandered into
the yard to stand around the stage, a persistent drum beat emanated from the stage gallery. Soon the entire cast
trouped on to the stage, each banging a staff on the ground in time to the drum beat, and then suddenly stopped.
O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention:
started Mark Rylance as chorus. No museum piece staging this, but an exciting, warlike start to an exciting,
It all worked together brilliantly. Rylance's Hal was a hesitant, uncertain man, but a
stirring, ruthless prince. His Crispin's Day speech, addressed partly to the groundlings, roused the playgoers
to cheering patriotism, even though a great many were American! In his love scene with Katherine, played by the
excellent Toby Cockerell, Rylance was nervous and touching.
And what of the other star of the day, the Wooden O, the great Globe itself? It was a
triumph! The communication between the players and the playgoers was real. Whenever the actors addressed the audience
directly they responded with enthusiasm. The lack of scenery was never a problem. The Bard wrote for this setting,
and told us where we are supposed to be in every scene either directly or indirectly. More intriguing was the sense
that on occasion the scene was changing before our eyes. Henry talks to some lords, they leave the stage and are
replaced by other characters, and Hal addresses them, but I felt that time had moved on and we were in another
part of the battlefield. This is screenplay writing! Only the imposition of fixed scenery after Shakespeare's era
made us expect plays to be enacted in 'real time'.