- Henry VI
Continuing a history cycle that extended over multiple seasons in 2019, the Globe's Henry VIabridged Shakespeare's three early collaborative plays into one, cutting part one and adapting parts two and three into a three-hour production that saw the return of the 2019 Globe ensemble, last seen in the summer season's 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. This sustained engagement by the same group of actors (bar two replacements) meant that the cast appeared to have gelled as a unit, and, from my perspective having seen all five shows (including Richard III, performed in repertory with Henry VI) in the two-season cycle, felt extremely tight-knit. A sense of trust and subsequent willingness to just go with each other permeated the whole piece, and their individual and group performances were strong enough to compensate for a few flaws in the productions themselves.
For Henry VI, the biggest of these flaws was consistency of pacing. While the majority of the production charged forward, giving an appropriately dizzying feel to the changing allegiances and brutality of war, some moments were overly rushed and lost their impact. Jack Cade (Sarah Amankwah), for instance, was treated as a scary figure, with hooded, anonymous characters wearing animal face masks appearing at the Playhouse's windows behind the audience, rallying around Cade's cry of "we [are] Jack Cade." But owing to the compression required to condense two plays into a single production, Cade's scenes were cut so that the rebellion never hit its stride or became a real danger to king and country, and the unseen crowd of commoners protesting Humphrey's death felt far more threatening.
Some of the blocking in the first act also felt disconnected, despite using one major set piece to tie things together. Grace Smart's design [End Page 302]changed the indoor theater into a Georgian palace, with the black and gold backdrop of the Wanamaker painted a pale blue, and a large marble rose motif covering the floor. Dominating the center of the space was a bright red chaise longue, around which the first act based a series of tableaux featuring the nobles dressed in modern suits of red or white. The chaise became a throne big enough for not only King Henry (Jonathan Broadbent) but also, at the beginning of the play, both Humphrey (John Lightbody) and his wife, Eleanor (Amankwah). Eleanor was quickly replaced by Queen Margaret (Steffan Donnelly), while York (Colin Hurley) and Suffolk (Nina Bowers) also sat next to the monarch in turn. The chaise became a touchstone during the first act, as the ensemble came back to this image regularly. The throne provided a large obstacle onstage, which anchored and hindered the action in equal parts. Some of the actors became blocked behind it, unable to move, while others were able to break away and move around it for soliloquies and pointed commentary on the rest of the court. The tableaux were often helpful, especially in terms of illustrating the shifting power dynamics that set up the civil war of acts two and three. Other moments were effective even without much movement, such as when Suffolk and Margaret plotted the removal of their enemies literally behind Henry as he sat on the throne, and even started making out over his head. However, such stationary blocking also flattened the action, and meant that much of the first hour was static.
Many of these issues were fixed after the first act, however, and the second and third acts felt clearer. While the...