James’ Brand New Blog

Archive for July 16th, 2012

Thinking about John Andrew Reaney (1954-1966)

- July 16th, 2012

John Andrew Reaney headstone

Image by Jack Chambers of a broken arrow, with part of it “underground,” symbolizing a life cut short. It is part of my brother’s headstone.

My brother John Andrew Reaney would have been 58 today. I visited his grave to say hullo & goodbye on July 16, always a special day in the family calendar. He died in 1966 of viral meningitis (apparently that’s what it was, the cause of his death was clouded by grief & family tragedy at the time, at least for me).

I miss you, John, & wonder always what might have been. Still thinking of you just now is making me smile because of your smile & the tears are giving way to happy memories.

See you again, brother. Bye for now.

 

A grim & grimly funny & grimy (all compliments) Henry V @SSF

- July 16th, 2012

Henry_On The Run Pistol

Tom Rooney as Ensign Pistol in Henry V. Photography by David Hou.

Henry_On The Run Henry

Aaron Krohn as King Henry V in Henry V. Photography by David Hou.

Henry_On The Run Bath scene

Deborah Hay (left) as Alice and Bethany Jillard as Catherine in Henry V. Photography by David Hou.

Henry_On The Run court

Members of the company in Henry V. Photography by David Hou.

Perhaps in saying farewell for 2012, Stratford Shakespeare Festival artistic director Des McAnuff wanted to show us that he can also do Shakespeare, emphasizing ideas & concepts, the whole text & nothing less.

Perhaps not. Still, my admiration for the ideas & execution of Henry V, which opened Friday at the Festival Theatre, keeps besting my sense of enjoyment derived from it.

There is much to admire.  Tom Rooney is terrific as Pistol and so is Randy Hughson as Bardolph. Christopher Prentice as a nicely dim Nim rounds out this trio of mostly unlovable rogues & Sophia Walker is sweetly determined to be good as their Boy. With Lucy Peacock as Pistol’s wife, they form a court of misrule & slyness . . . just like the younger actors in the glam roles in the official courts. Time & again the Pistol-Bardolph crew’s darkly funny scenes are an immediate satirical response to Henry’s. David Hou’s production photos used here indicate, by chance, the Pistol-Henry connection. (Or maybe it’s not just chance).

The hanging of Bardolph as the first half ends is shocking & should  be . . . JBNBlog admits to laughing a little nervously as Hughson stayed aloft for quite a time & wondered aloud if he ever anticipated such an end when he was putting boot to board as Stompin’ Tom. The  spectacle haunts the second half of the evening as if he is still hanging there, one of the many ghosts of Henry’s former acquaintances judicially and conveniently murdered during the play.

The interpretation has Aaron Krohn as Henry speaking quickly much of the time . . . this may be a consciously anti-heroic, anti-Olivier strategy & if so I admired it without being numbed by it. The most famous speeches & the wooing scene are splendid & it is v. effective to have Henry speak the Chorus’s epilogue which reminds the audience all these triumphs of 1415 would die in a few years after Henry’s early death. (Did you know the despised-by-both-sides young Dauphin lived until 1461? Aided by Joan of Arc, he completely reclaimed France – except for Calais – from the English.)

We met St. Thomas ace Harry Edison after . . . he is a non-union performer at Stratford in the production & was apparently among the English soldiers sleeping by their campfires during Henry’s late-night ramble & also a French soldier. Harry, are you in that court photo used here . . . were you killed in action or dumped in a pit by Albion perfide?

In this production, Henry orders hundreds of his French prisoners to be slaughtered & consumed by fire. It is horrifying & speaks truth about Henry’s willingness to do anything to assure victory. I am still shuddering at this scene & can’t recall the battle . . . point made.

(Spoiler alert) The English and French banners used throughout are replaced by a huge Canadian flag at the end . . . symbolically appropriate in a play with a fair amount of French spoken . . . but along with the exit soundtrack of the Beatles’ Revolution didn’t work for me.

The bath tub scene did give JBNBlog a fine view of Princess Kate’s (!) admirable backside. Which is artistically defensible, not that it’s needed, because it turns out her English lesson with her lady-in-waiting (London’s own Deborah Hay) has the princess shocked to discover the English words for foot & robe are close to the French equivalents of the eff-word and the C-word respectively. Your annotated Shakespeares of the modern persuasion will spell these out for you.

The weasel-worded justification for the war provokes scornful laughter from the audience, as it should. War is grim, long & hellish. Winning is determined by counting the bodies. Henry has to be told that he had won the battle – how was he to know? Then he names it Agincourt.

So. Go. But be prepared for sour emotions & fatigue & harsh laughter & not much to cheer about. Point made.

Two footnotes: For the usual JBNBlog prizes, what was Duke Ellington’s playful name for King Henry V?

Reading the John Hirsch biography A Fiery Soul before we saw Henry V proved revelatory . . . there are several passages where Hirsch talks to the younger Des McAnuff about coming to Stratford in his 50s because he is a Canadian.

So. A final thought. Is some of the grimness & griminess of this (supposedly) heroic tale a tribute to John Hirsch, the darkest Prospero of Canadian theatre?