The Judith Shakespeare Company is in the midst of presenting all three parts of Henry VI in what they call "Shakespeare Unplugged." These "unplugged" performances are somewhere between staged readings and workshop productions. The set is almost nonexistent, costumes rudimentary, there is little blocking, and the actors are all on book.
Henry VI Part Two deals with the Wars of the Roses and depicts the beginnings of the events which eventually lead to Henry VI's dethroning in Part Three. It's much darker than the first part, and the audience gets treated to not one, but TWO decapitations, plus a hunchback thrown in for good measure.
Given that the play is about several wars, it's no surprise that it's full of stage combat (choreographed by Dan O'Driscoll). Lamentably, the fighting was stylized and minimalstic, with slow-motion action, and only a few moves in each fight sequence. It looked so stagy that it lacked any degree of excitement or suspense.
The Judith Shakespeare Company always employs reverse-gender casting, due to its dedication to "Reexamining the roles for women in classical theatre." However, not EVERY role was played by someone of the opposite gender, which resulted in much confusion as to what gender some characters were supposed to be, a confusion that generic costumes and nonexistent makeup didn't relieve..
Despite the rampant gender chaos, the casting did occasionally work, especially Mary E. Hodges, who was so evil as John Cade that her gender became irrelevant.
All three parts of Henry VI used the same set. This set consisted of a shield hanging on one wall and a rather small red chair, which represented the throne of England. At times a folding chair was added for the Queen to sit upon. Since actors almost never sat upon these chairs, the effect was that of a totally bare stage.
The titanic cast (30-plus actors!) was on book, and the scripts sometimes got in the way, especially during the stage-combat sequences. During the action, someone's script would always conspicuously flop to the floor with the subtlety of an elephant falling out of someone's pocket. Director Ivanna Cullinan made one interesting use of the scripts in certain scenes, though: after being killed, dead characters would rise from the floor and symbolically close their scripts to represent their deaths.
All three plays used a mere two lighting schemes (designed by Chris Daly). A wash for most scenes and a red glow turned on during the combat sequences. The music and sound effects were provided by a live percussionist (Katie Down) who was armed with an arsenal of exotic instruments (Including water glasses!) which was the most elaborate aspect of the production.
While this production of Henry VI Part Two lacked the resources it deserved, it was being presented simultaneously with the other two parts of Henry VI's story, and the three of them are a must-see for Shakespeare enthusiasts.
(Also featuring Suzanne Hayes, Marie Bridget Dundon, Joseph Capone, Ari Barbanell, Rennita Martin, Carey Van Dreist, Susan Ferrara, Lisa Marie Preston, Mary E. Hodges, Alyssa Simon, Alison White, John Kinsherf, Lynne Kanter, Laurie Bannister-Colon, Vince Gatton, Natasha Yannacanedo, Lana Buss, Miriam Lipner, Danny Brink-Washington, Michelle Kovacs, Michael Shattner.)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby