Staging even just one Shakespearean play can be a difficult feat, but with Greystone’s new production of Henry V, University of Saskatchewan drama graduate student Skye Brandon will have successfully completed his fourth.
Brandon has been interested in Shakespeare’s history plays since his undergraduate studies in English and drama. In his career, he has worked through each of the plays in the “Henriad” tetralogy, playing the character of Hal in Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2 and directing each piece. The Greystone production of Henry V is the final play in this sequence.
“I’ve had the opportunity as a professional artist to work on the three plays that lead up to Henry V. I Directed Richard II. I directed Henry IV parts one and two and performed in them as Prince Hal. When it came time to finish that arc, to finish Henry’s story as now he’s become king, this felt like the perfect way to finish it,” Brandon said.
In Shakespeare’s canon, history plays are plays that mix historical fact and fictionalized elements. History plays do not fit the classic tragedy/comedy genre distinctions, yet they are not “problem plays” either. They occupy a unique space in Shakespeare’s body of work, and they blend together many disparate elements from Shakespeare’s other plays.
“I’ve had an interest in the history plays, specifically, since I came across Henry IV, Part 1 as an undergrad. They’re a whole other type of play, like, ‘What is this?’ It’s historical characters and stories mixed with fictional characters. There’s drama and comedy as well, so it was just a mix of everything, and I fell in love with those plays,” Brandon said.
For Henry V, Brandon will be reprising his role as Hal, working alongside a cast and crew of undergraduate students to accomplish this production.
“The cast is 22 [actors], including me, so there’s quite a few of us. All six fourth-years are in there. Eight out of ten third-years are in the production, and there’s a number of second-years who are in there as well,” Brandon said.
Brandon is particularly proud of the technical aspects of the play. This production uses a projector to project backgrounds that convey the setting of each scene, making the plot easier to follow for those who are unfamiliar with the structure of the original.
“I’ve used projections on our back wall — not to overtake scenes is my hope, but that, when we move from one location to another, to augment [the production] so that the audience goes, ‘Oh, that’s where we are,’ as opposed to using the first few moments of each scene trying to figure out where we are,” Brandon said.
He is also proud of the stage fighting in the show, which is used to convey the many large-scale battles in the play, featuring as many as six combatants on stage at once.
“Sometimes, productions will elect not to do any kind of stage combat — they’ll just do the scenes that are there. I kind of went all in. Instead of having a speech about the death of the Duke of York, I want to see the Duke of York die at the battle,” Brandon said. “I think we’ve done more stage combat in this production than … people usually [do when they] put on Henry V.”
Brandon’s approach to the Henriad is to place the plays in their respective historical contexts rather than reimagining them in other settings. Brandon wants to let the play be informed by historical research, but he is not against taking liberties with the original work.
“Some people ask, ‘Are you trying to recreate the way in which Shakespeare did the play?’ That’s not what I’m trying to do… What I am doing is trying to use what we know historically, to the best of our knowledge, to inform the decisions,” Brandon said.
Part of this historical research has led Brandon to give Prince Hal a scar after the events of Henry IV, Part 1, a detail that is mentioned in passing in the original works and corroborated by Brandon’s own research. This detail is left out of many interpretations of the work, but Brandon felt it was important to include. When Brandon returns to the role of Hal for the final play, this scar will be faded to show the passage of time, completing the arc of Hal’s character.
Henry V is showing from Nov. 21 to Dec. 1 at Greystone Theatre. Tickets cost $17 for students and are available online and at the box office.
Cole Chretien / Culture Editor
Photos: David Hartman