Unfortunately, my Thursday night bio lab prevented me from attending all of the scheduled performances this semester— all except for Henry IV. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the play. And I am convinced that had it not been the only performance I was present for, it would be my favorite. So many elements of the play appealed to me: the modern take on Shakespeare, the all-female cast, the prison setting, the unconventional props and the interactive stage. I have to admit: anytime the swag of contemporary thugs is satirized, I am immediately amused. And the experience was only enhanced by the excellent portrayal of King Henry IV, Prince Harry and most especially, Hotspur. Honestly, watching them perform made me earnestly wish I was an actress on that stage. Ultimately, I can describe the concept of this play— this reimagined version of Henry IV—in one word: smart. It radiated cleverness. I really admire that.
On Tuesday night, November 10, we went to go see Henry IV at St. Ann’s Warehouse. What was unique about this play was that it was performed by an all-female cast. The story was “modernized,” and instead of taking place in medieval Britain with sword fights and knights, it took place in contemporary times, in a women’s prison. It therefore served as a “play within a play,” in that the female cast members acted as inmates who were acting out Henry IV with the props they had available in the prison.
Overall, I would say the very concept of the prison was a phenomenal concept, and I loved how it was more or less hidden until the very end of the play. (After watching the beginning scene of the inmates marching in, and the scene where one of the girls runs offstage crying, followed by the guards marching in, I was very confused. I hadn’t put everything together until the very end, and I had one of those “aaaahhhhhhhhhh” moments when you finally figure something out.) The story was very intriguing, and my eyes were glued to the stage all the way through. Additionally, the acting was way above par (especially the actresses playing Henry IV and Hotspur), and I really liked that they interacted with the audience.
However, there were some things that I disliked about the play. First and foremost, I disliked the informality of the setting. One may argue that the informality was necessary for the plot itself, being that it takes place in a women’s prison. However, I felt that some of the props and scenes were straight out childish, and I didn’t find them very humorous (just my humble opinion). Moreover, I felt that the play would’ve worked best on a traditional stage, rather than a square stage surrounded on all four sides by the audience. This made it harder to hear and see what was going on at all times.
It was a great experience watching “Henry IV” with the class. Although I was confused in some moments throughout the play, I really liked the setting and atmosphere. I liked how the audience was put into the play by the way we were all locked out and unable to use the bathroom, similar to the prisoner actors. I liked the concept of a stage surrounded by an audience.
I also liked the modern twist to the old play, especially the addition of some modern music, which caught my attention. Another thing that caught my attention was the way the actors broke character and went into the character of prisoners. Their acting made me believe that they were actually breaking character for real, only until I saw the acting security guards control the chaos in the prison.
Overall, although the performance was long and without intermission, I thought it was a good performance in an easily accessible part of Brooklyn. I would definitely love to attend another play in the St. Ann’s Warehouse.
First things first, I think I must publicly acknowledge that I love Shakespeare and was extremely glad to be able to see one of his plays. I’ve read Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet; each of them left its mark on me in inexplicable ways. Whether it was the betrayal in Caesar or the madness in Hamlet, Shakespeare was always able to uniquely convey emotion through powerful language. At the same time, he touched on timeless themes and relatable topics: the lust for power, parent-child relationships, and the temptations of love are only a few.
There was also his intrigue with history and the monarchy that I could relate to. I am fascinated by the class structure and political systems of the United Kingdom, something I enjoy learning about whenever I can. Whether it’s through watching television (i.e. The Tudors and CW’s Reign, whose season 3 plot intertwines England and France) or doing research, there are so many compelling things about the English monarchy that I’m glad Shakespeare tried to highlight. I mean, just take for example how Henry IV became king by ousting Richard II. Can you believe that happened? What about Elizabeth I, whose feud with Mary, Queen of Scots, resulted in her (Mary’s) execution? English history has been tainted with, among others, murder, treason, incest, and religious rebellion. I can see why Shakespeare loved it.
Henry IV was an amalgamation of the aforementioned traits and themes (namely power and family), set in the 15th century after Henry IV seizes the throne. In the St. Ann’s version, however, there were obvious differences: the cast was all women and it was set in a prison. Coming in, I figured this would be a problem—what would a Shakespeare play be without the glitz and glamour of the monarchy?
Perhaps not much. I admit the play was spectacular—the acting was captivating, the jokes were laugh-out-loud hysterical (Scotland!), and the addition of music was lovely—but some part of me kept feeling like Henry IV the play was really just the backdrop to the drama within the prison. After all, that was the context; the review in class mentioned that, in the plot, the prisoners were staging a show. This ultimately disappointed me. And in the end, while I loved many parts of the St. Ann’s rendition, I came out of it realizing I would rather stick to the old stuff that made Shakespeare great. Unpopular opinion, I know. Sue me.
Last Tuesday, I made my way to one of my favorite areas in Brooklyn, Dumbo, to see the play Henry Iv at the St. Ann’s Warehouse with my class. This version of the renown play had all all-female cast and I was interested in how that aspect of the play would turn out. I actually really liked the all female cast. I thought the actors were entertaining and believable. Not once did I think that the role would be better played if it were a male because the acting was strong. My favorite actress was the one that played Hotspur. She had high energy and her performance was captivating throughout the night. The boxing scenes with her were also some of my favorite scenes in the play. The plot of the story was interesting and reading the summary definitely helped, but I wish I had read the play before hand in order to understand the meaning of the dialogue better. There were scenes where I was completely lost in the dialogue, but the acting still kept me engaged. I didn’t mind some of the props such as the kids chairs, but I did think the dog and baby were a little silly. Besides that, I wasn’t bothered by the untraditional props because they were intentional in order to show a different interpretation of this play. I really enjoyed how the audience was almost a part of the play at some points. In the beginning, the gates were closed and we weren’t allowed to use the restroom which made me feel like I was locked up as well. The stage was also the room itself and the audience surrounded the room, which also added to that feeling. There were also a few scenes where the audience was directly involved such as the scene where the woman from the audience came on stage. Another thing I enjoyed was the DJ booth. I thought it was clever to use that during the times where the actors would change the stage because the music diverted the audience’s attention. Overall, I really enjoyed this play. I was expecting to see a more traditional version of a Shakespearean play, but it was refreshing to see a modern take on it.
Of the three performances our class has seen so far, “Henry IV,” by William Shakespeare, was easily my favorite. I think the most important thing about these pieces, is the presentation of the story. The performer’s acting, the setting, and the innovative use of the props grabbed my attention and successfully communicated the riveting story.
My favorite actress in the play, by far, was Jane Anouka, who played Sir Harry (Hotspur) Percy. Normally in literature and live performances, including plays, movies, and TV shows, I favor the protagonist over the antagonist. I have not been able to give up the mentality of that good will always triumph over evil. However, in this play, the adversary that tries to kill his father, King Henry IV, in an attempt to take control, was the most brilliant in my eyes. In addition to the character’s nature in Shakespeare’s play, the sheer passion that the actress presented us with was awe-inspiring. I was amazed how the actress was able to argue fervently with other characters and perform athletically at the same time without showing even the faintest appearance of exhaustion.
Initially, I was somewhat disappointed with the informality of the play using a DJ for music and children’s toys as props. My perception changed completely after the first few minutes. These two aspects were brilliantly intertwined into the play as a source of comedic effect. Never did I imagine myself laughing at a performance of one of Shakespeare’s renowned plays. Furthermore, when the play took on a serious tone, I found myself too distracted by the intense plot and acting, to notice the simple props.
I was also intrigued by the “play within a play” concept prevalent in several scenes throughout the performance. It added a unique twist to the play, where the viewer is forced to consider multiple settings, rather than just watching the piece exactly as it was written by Shakespeare. It allowed people who are not as familiar and comfortable with of Shakespeare to appreciate the play in a different way.
Even despite the lack of an intermission for a two hour and fifteen minutes performance, I have no complaints! I had a remarkable experience.
For me, Henry IV was difficult to follow. I never liked Shakespearean English, or Shakespeare’s plays in general. However, the play at St. Ann’s was more than about the story. It was about the setting, the choreography, the lighting, the music, the props, and the actors themselves.
Jade Anouka, the actress who played the prisoner who played Hotspur, was phenomenal. Her seamless blend of physical activity and line delivery was beautiful. Easily my favorite character, I loved the enthusiasm and energy in every line of her performance. The fighting-at-a-distance was satisfying to watch, because the movements were really fluid and the sound effects were a nice touch. The changing of props in front of us was interesting, in contrast to the opera stage which was much bigger and used higher budget property. This setup change was integrated into the theater experience with music and steel pans (I love percussion instruments). The jokes were funny (when I understood them), especially the Scottish independence bit. I don’t know how I feel about the production “breaking down” at the “hotdog down a hallway” joke, I’m not sure I wanted to be reminded that we were still in a prison.
It reminded me that I couldn’t go to the bathroom for another hour until they opened the gates again.
This brings me to my dislikes. What I didn’t like about the the performance was the lack of intermission. Sitting through over 2 hours in one go is not fun for me, it’s one reason I don’t really watch movies. The confusing plot points took away from the performance as well.
I enjoyed the opera a lot more than the performance, because I felt a wider range of emotions. The beautiful singing and the detailed stage construction made me like it more. It felt shorter thanks to the intermissions, which were really good for socializing and just catching a break. The translation was really thoughtful, the play would’ve done well with a modern English translation as well. The atmosphere just felt richer overall. I remember at one point the hair on my arms stood up when Tosca sang. I think the humor on Tosca is more relatable as well. Everyone seemed to laugh at the “jealous girlfriend” stereotype, but everyone also shared the respect for Tosca when she murdered her assailant. The story was so rich (sometimes too many details) but all in all it’s something I would watch again. Tosca gave me a new perspective on opera, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience both the opera and the play.
But the opera was better (for me).
Despite the momentary confusion on how to get the venue, my experience was definitely worth it. Prior to the show, all the play-goers were crowded around the tables in the “lounge” area, where they enjoyed light refreshments and discussed other plays by the same company they also enjoyed, most notably Julius Caesar. So, after hearing their rave reviews about the other show, I knew I was in for a treat.
One of the coolest things I observed in the showing was when the actors, or “prisoners” were escorted on the stage, which was actually a basketball court, by the security guards. I was immediately filled with excitement, because that opening scene gave me an impression of the show being a combination of Shakespeare, the great writer, and one of my favorite shows, Orange is the New Black (which is also set in a woman’s prison).
Anyway, skipping a summary of the plot details, the play was overall very well done by the performers, and the use of an all-female cast in this powerful story was very impressionable, and set many unique parallels, which made the showing especially enjoyable.
In addition, the use of the simple props and costumes, the modernization/simplification of the writing, and the physical proximity of the actors compared to the audience established an intimate connection between the audience and the performers, which allowed the audience to truly connect with the story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Ann’s Warehouse, and it definitely made me more intrigued in these kinds of modern adaptations of old works, and it is definitely something I would consider going to again.
After I finished reading the summaries of Henry IV parts 1 and 2, I was very excited to see the play. Unfortunately, when I entered the “theater”, my expectations dropped. For such a highly recommended acting of the play, I did not expect the stage to be a basketball court, with the audience surrounding it from all sides. As the play continued, however, I did not even notice the other side of audience much because the actors acted in such a way that both sides got to see all of the action.
As for the twist of the play within a play, I would have to say that it was highly creative. In the beginning, I got to see how the prisoners were brought in, and even from that point, they were already in their roles, acting like prisoners. Furthermore, the actual fights within the play, as well as the interruptions in it added action to the play, making it more appealing to the current generation.
Although the guards were not major contributors to the play, they did change the overall perspective of it. May it be them constantly keeping an eye on the prisoners from behind the seating area, or from the top of the cage, or even the harsh way they closed the gates, their actions added on to the theme of prison. Aside from that, they did not even allow people to leave the cage during the play.
One thing that I cannot forgive the director was the lack of props. I understand that it is meant to be a prison setting, but really? Child toys as props? A prison is more likely to have actual tables or supplies for the prisoners to make the props from than play sets for children. The only possible reason I can think of for choosing these props were that they were easy to move in between acts.
Overall, I would say that I liked the play, but if I had to choose, I would much rather see a traditional style Shakespearean play. The edits added to it did add action, but it did not seem like Shakespeare would do something like this. May it be that I was not expecting this, or any other plausible reason, I simply did not see the point of this change. As for the actors, bravo, you really did a great job in portraying masculine roles.
Ps. The phone (picture attached) was an actual old-style phone, Professor Ugoretz.
- Ben K
Where to start…where to start…Let’s start at the beginning.
Before the play, I was incredibly excited. I had no idea what Henry IV was about but knowing it was set in an all women’s prison made me think of Orange Is The New Black, which is a show I love, so I was very excited to see the play. Later, I actually read what Henry IV was about and have to admit, was a bit confused by the summary (too many names) but I got the gist of it. The location of the warehouse was hard to find but luckily I didn’t get too lost. When they brought the “prisoners” in through the front, I got excited, I thought that was a cool idea and very informal (but in this case it worked).
I took my seat and I was F-301 right at the top, all the way at the edge (this would become important later as you already know). The guards locked everyone in, and one again this was a nice touch and got me excited to see the play. Then the play started and I got lost. I do not understand Shakespeare. If I got it to read, I could suffer through it and understand after I have read the passages about twice (and very slowly, if I may add), but to hear them once, quickly, and with an accent, oh boy! I did not understand a word they were saying for a good 15 minutes. While everyone was laughing I was just looking from side to side trying to figure out what was going on. I think I understood about 25% of what was said in the play. Since I knew I wasn’t going to understand a word, I payed more attention to other things such as movements and the actors acting. As I mentioned in class, I found it to be too-much, over-dramatized and the sad parts made me laugh because it was so blatantly over-the-top.
As I mentioned in class, I had one of the weirdest experiences at my life during the play. The actress was right next to me on the steps, less than a foot of distance. It was so odd because it is not expected in a play, but the weirdest part was that she was a stone and pretended I wasn’t there, didn’t even blink. Creepy.
The comedy of the play (from the bits and pieces I could gather) was not bad. I did laugh at some moments. Although there were gimmicky moments such as the bear and the car, and the chair crown, I did laugh for a moment. This was informal and may have worked to make me laugh a bit, it did take away from the play as a whole.
The play was long, and felt longer that the opera. I think the reason was not that there was no intermission but because it was Shakespeare and its difficult to watch something for 2 hours and 15 minutes that you can barely understand.
I’m not sure if I liked the stage (or lack there-of) or not. It did create a sense of intimacy in the atmosphere but at the same time it took away from the experience. In class, everyone was talking about how powerful the Henry IV deathbed scene was and I can’t say that it was because his back was to me during most of it. I didn’t understand a word and I could even see the movements or facial expression so I actually tuned out. The same can be said for the woman crying and running away after being insulted bit. I didn’t see the woman so I had no idea how she was feeling until the end and had no idea what was going on.
But on a more positive note, I thought that the actors did a good job and obviously took there role seriously so shout out to them (although they will most likely never read this response). The person that I thought did the best job was Falstaff because he (she) was very comical in her actions.
All in all, for me is goes: ballet, opera, then play. But, I do like plays and usually would put them higher. The only reason it is lower, as stated before was that is was in the original Shakespearean words so I did not understand it.