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Co-creator of the ‘Shakespeare in Ireland’ academic blog, providing information on early modern plays, talks and conferences across Ireland
  10/9/2015 Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival | Shakespeare in Ireland 1/12 Shakespeare in Ireland AN ACADEMIC BLOG OF EARLY MODERN EVENTS ANDRESEARCH IN IRELAND Of crowns, nations and memory machines:Druid reimagines Shakespeare’s histories Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson. Druid Shakespeare, in co-production with the Lincoln Centerfestival NYC Richard II  , Henry IV  , Parts I and 2, Henry V  , The Castle Yard,Kilkenny Arts Festival, 6 – 15 August 2015.Director Gary Hynes, with adaptation by Mark O’RoweCast and production details: Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at theKilkenny Arts Festival Posted by dunnede  Aug 19  10/9/2015 Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival | Shakespeare in Ireland 2/12 Reviewed by Stephen O’Neill  “What ish my nation”?, asks Captain MacMorris in Shakespeare’s Henry V  , in a scene that brings together an Irishman, a Scotsman, aWelshman and an Englishman supposedly united in the king’sambitions to conquer France and thus expand his empery. It’s ascene that is frequently cut from modern productions of the play,perhaps because for directors it smacks of a Shakespeare too muchthe Elizabethan dramatist for modern sensibilities, or that it seemstoo easy a form of political symbolism. Druid follow suit in cuttingthe four captains scene and with it Shakespeare’s only Irish characterin their ambitious production of Shakespeare’s Henriad ( Richard II  , Henry IV  , Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V  ), all adapted and deftlyredacted in the careful hands of the contemporary Irish playwrightMark O’Rowe, with Gary Hynes’ directing. Omitting MacMorris mightseem surprising considering how the pre-publicity forDruidShakespeare foregrounds the Irish subtexts to Shakespeare’sHenriad. Gary Hynes has been quoted as saying that “At the timewhen Shakespeare was writing these plays, Ireland would have beento England as Afghanistan is to the U.S. today”. In his preface to theprogramme, Fintan O’Toole remarks that the Tudor state’s bloodyNine years War against the revolt in Ireland “looms large inShakespeare’s history plays”. It is the Tudor period’s Vietnam, hesuggests, in that Ireland and the Irish wars simultaneously hauntedand are refracted in the literature of the period, sometimes byindirection and sometimes – as in the instance of MacMorris and hisresonant question – by overt, topical direction. Shakespeare’s playis alert to the risks of such topical allegory, parodying it in thecharacter of Fluellen, whose fondness for elaborate parallels istreated comically. Other mentions of Ireland in the cycle remain –ones that are true to Shakespeare’s sources but that become chargedin the context of the Elizabethan wars in Ireland. In Richard II  , thecapricious yet vulnerable king talks of supplanting “rough rug-headedkerns” (an Anglicization of the Gaelic word ‘ceithern’ meaning footsoldier but here a derogatory catch all term for the native Irish), aline that at once encodes Elizabethan constructions of the Irish asbarbarous and also expresses Richard’s own desire to demonstrateresolve, to do what English kings historically do. The peat-coveredstage, a key visual element of Francis O’Connor’s evocative setdesign, reinforces connections between Richard’s intent to uproot theIrish rebels, his kingly image, and his mortality too. Indeed, in thepost-performance interval at Kilkenny, a hooded man hastily buriesRichard’s body out the back; as he piles up the soil, we audiencemembers become silent witnesses to usurpation and murder. Suchare the “sad stories of the death of kings”.  10/9/2015 Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival | Shakespeare in Ireland 3/12 Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson. Precisely how DruidShakespeare understands itself as responding tothe coincidence of Shakespeare’s great cycle of history plays with theNine Years War is not absolutely clear. Why cut Mackmorrice from Henry V but retain Richard’s talk of usurping the Irish from theirland? But the lack of clarity is ultimately a good thing. Previousproductions in Ireland of Shakespeare’s histories struggled to makesuch topically and ideologically charged allusions work in a moderncontext. Ouroboros Theatre’s Richard II   at the Abbey in 2013 soughtto make sense of play’s Irish subtexts via more recent Anglo-Irishrelations, with visual cues to IRA hunger strike and inclusion of U2’sSunday Bloody Sunday. But ultimately these felt forced.Druid and O’Rowe don’t seem concerned with forcing throughconnections between hundreds of years of Anglo-Irish relations (bythe time Shakespeare is writing his plays, English interventions inIreland are already three centuries old) as these are condensed andre-presented in literary texts like Shakespeare’s histories. Nor arethey concerned with producing an overtly reactive post-colonialismby Hibernicizing Shakespeare’s cycle. Hynes has spoken of creatingan emotional and physical landscape for the plays, an approach thatshe and the company also applied to their highly regarded Syngecycle. The production works because it allows us to consider howthese plays make meaning on their own terms. DruidShakespearerecognizes too how a Shakespeare play is a spectral thing, made upof the ghosts of past performances, of critical interpretations, of audience expectations. Experiencing the plays over two consecutivenights (alternatively, one could see the four plays on one night),amplifies these sensations – going back to Castle Yard on the Sundayevening felt like a return to a group of people that one had got toknow, and of whom you wanted to learn more.  10/9/2015 Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival | Shakespeare in Ireland 4/12 Charlotte McCurry as Blunt, Clare Barrett as Bardolph, Rory Nolan as Falstaff and AislingO’Sullivan as Hal. Image by Matthew Thompson. This is, then, less an Irish Shakespeare than a production consciousof doing Shakespeare in and from Ireland. So, we hear Irish accents– both rural and urban – and one effect is to make plays that readlike roll calls of English aristocratic families seem foreign. That senseof distance is created through the production choices more generally– from costumes with hints of current fashions to the welcome use of gender-blind casting to shake up what can otherwise seem like arelentlessly patriarchal, masculinist world. The audience is madeconscious of the body beneath (especially in the deathbed scene of  Henry IV   Part 2 when Derbhle Crotty’s breasts can be seen throughthe nightgown). Such elements contribute to the feeling that theplays are being treated as representations, as self-reflexiveconstructions of history and historical figures.To frame DruidShakespeare as an Irish approach to the plays wouldbe to do the overall production and performance a disservice. Thecycle deserves to be remembered for several standoutperformances. Marty Rea is captivating as Richard II. Avoiding anotable tendency of modern productions to play him in high camp oras suffering from a Jesus complex (as in Ben Whishaw in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown , 2012), Rea brings a subtlety to the role. HisRichard is a man of many colours, despite his white face that recallportraits of Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen or perhaps the 1980s’ Dublin street artist The Dice Man. Rea also makes a memorableappearance at the opening of Henry V   as the war mongeringArchbishop of Canterbury, decked out here in graphite robes andmitre and with a delivery by Rea that recalls the booming auditory of Ian Paisley, the late Ulster Unionist politician. Derbhle Crotty’sBolingbroke is played as proficient, intellectual and current by way of   10/9/2015 Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival | Shakespeare in Ireland 5/12 contrast to Richard who seems not fit for the times (an interpretationthat may recall W. B. Yeats’s 1901 essay on the Henriad, “AtStratford-on-Avon”). Aisling O’Sullivan’s mischievous and mysteriousHal provides a foil to Rory Nolan’s genuinely funny Falstaff. In thetavern scenes, the production captures the play’s comic energy, andits recurring interest in this subversive terrain of Henry’s kingdom,as if to say this is home before any court scenes or battlefields.Gavin Drea as Poins and Clare Barrett as Bardolph bring a realpresence to these supporting roles. At times, however, O’Sullivan’sHal seems to spit out his words, and the vowels become so long andover-worked as to begin to sound like Felonious Gru from DespicableMe . The hyper-accent would make more sense in terms of Hal’smotivation to pass in Eastcheap among Falstaff and company, were itnot for the fact that his soliloquy at the end of Act1, Scene 2 in whichthe prince compares himself to the sun obscured by clouds has beencut, perhaps to make his relation with Falstaff as surrogate father(and indeed mother) seem more enigmatic to audience members.O’Sullivan’s delivery is more effective when applied to Henry V,particularly his more jingoistic rhetoric. O’Sullivan brings animmediacy to “Once more unto the breach” which can all to easilylend itself to parody, directing the call-to-arms to the audience inCastle Yard – a space otherwise under-used in the production – as asmall band of soldiers move in stylized, choreographed poses behindthe young king. Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V. Image by Matthew Thompson. Movement is another highpoint of this production. The bare stage andscaffold set is used very effectively, with the balcony put to good useespecially in Aaron Monaghan’s energetic Chorus in Henry V  . MarkO’Rowe’s adaptation also brings momentum to these history plays –pace and speed are achieved without the language being redacted
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