Shakespeare’s Henry V: An Auckland actor blogs about her experienceMarch 7, 2016
An Auckland actor blogs about her experience playing Fluellen in Auckland New Zealand’s all-female Henry V, which is being performed at Pop-up Globe.
Auckland’s first all-female production of Henry V has opened with four performances under our belt. It has been quite a ride getting to where we are now. As mentioned in my earlier blog, we are performing in three very different venues so the show must be adapted to each, bearing in mind the different acoustics, spaces and audience numbers.
We were fortunate enough to be able to conduct most of our rehearsals at our first venue, Pah Homestead, a stunning historic building located in the beautiful Monte Cecilia Park which is currently run as an Art Gallery, function centre and cafe. Exhibitions are showcased in the building itself and quirky sculptures outside meld beautifully with the natural surrounds. We use the large outdoor space directly in front of the balcony as our ‘stage’ with the audience seated on the covered balcony or, if fine, the grass directly below.
With a cast of twenty nine women, many of whom double up roles, it was always going to be tricky to coordinate rehearsals, especially bearing in mind that these took place during the summer months when many of us had planned holidays. We probably had less than five rehearsals where every cast member was present. This challenged the already tight timeframe considerably, particularly in the battle scenes, which are impossible to properly rehearse without your corresponding French or English antagonist! These scenes were ably directed by Fight Choreographer Alexander Holloway, using thick pieces of cloth to represent swords; blue for the French army and grey for the English. Our Non nobis Domine requiem, led with the haunting voice of Delaney O’Hara (Boy) with support from the soldiers at the conclusion of the Battle of Agincourt was composed and directed by Callum Blackmore and is a highlight of the production.
We opened at Pah Homestead on Friday 26 February to a full house on a clear and balmy summer’s evening. It was a joy to finally perform to an audience, many of whom enjoyed pre-show dinners on the balcony and wine throughout the show. The following night it rained. The audience were sheltered under the balcony and the lords of Henry’s court bore large umbrellas with we soldiers clad in see-through ponchos over our costumes. It was great fun and Henry’s lines: “The winter coming on and sickness growing upon our soldiers” and “Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched with rainy marching in the painful field” got a chuckle from the very responsive audience.
On Sunday 29th we packed into the Pop-up Globe. The venue has been constructed in a mere two months and it is awe-inspiring. For many of the cast, this was the first time we had been inside. Looking up at the Lords and Gentlemen’s rooms, complete with chandeliers and artefacts such as antique chairs, carpets and wall-mounted deer heads donated by local business sponsors, I confess to being somewhat overcome with emotion. Artistic Director Miles Gregory has put his heart and soul into this venture and given Auckland something truly special; not only is it commemorating the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death but the venue itself is drawing new people to Shakespeare that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have come. In terms of bookings, all shows in the venue are doing incredibly well; our final two shows are close to selling out, which is a huge confidence boost for all involved.
The challenge for the participating companies, particularly those of us that aren’t part of the Pop-up Globe Company is the paucity of rehearsal time in the space itself, bearing in mind that eight separate productions are being staged there and therefore the building is in constant use. Our Henry V cast packed in at 12pm on Sunday for a performance at 7pm that night which afforded barely enough time for a rough technical rehearsal. Nevertheless, going from a hundred people in a relaxed outdoor setting to about seven hundred people three tiers high was a challenge we met head-on, relishing the new opportunities afforded by the space. The audience themselves are in plain view which provides ample scope for interaction, especially with the Groundlings standing directly in front of the stage. Henry’s ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’ speech, and my first scene as Fluellen, opens with a dramatic burst of soldiers from a trapdoor beneath the stage, a hugely exciting way to enter the space.
Tomorrow we move to the Pumphouse Amphitheatre, our smallest space yet, which will afford opportunity for a more intimate experience, after which we return to the Pah and Pop-up Globe for our final three shows.