The early thoughts on Chimes at Midnight of Consultant Director, Stewart McGill
Auditions for next season’s Shakespeare Chimes at Midnight yet again reveal the importance of revaluing the so called ‘classical’ canon. We label the works classics because over the years – maybe centuries – audiences have found these plays speak beyond their own time and reflect the ongoing nature of what it is to be human.
In Henry IV, our big focus at Playbox this autumn, Shakespeare uses the metaphor of history to explore, in huge detail, the relationship between Fathers and Sons; the quest for power and rule; territory and the negotiation of borders, along with that ever-present debate on youth and age. The play takes its audience from a world of honour and chivalry to a new world political threat and war. It is indeed the last days of an England that we once believed existed.
Many will ask, why not explore these themes through a new play and, of course many writers do confront the issues of our time with insight, although the trend does tend to be particular and specific. Yet within the canon works handed down and rethought by subsequent generations, we can see how the very same themes and debates have been handled and routes sought to solve problems, as repetitious history endures.
When Hal, as Henry V, rejects Falstaff and banishes him from the company of his surrogate son, the man breaks and life ebbs away from him. The reconciliation will never take place. Is this breaking of familial bonds purely an Elizabethan trait? Of course, it is not.
We see the determination of Hotspur’s rebel force to create the land boundaries they require. Failure to achieve this will mean more war, more forced conquest. The conflict in Ukraine is acutely in mind, but this alongside so many other territorial quarrels over the centuries.
One can, of course, add the equipment of today; mobile phone, video screens, modern dress and claim the modernity, yet even in out of time costume, the themes have resonance and do not require over-conscious contemporisation to make the point. Orson Welles film, Chimes at Midnight conflates Henry IV into one expansive work. We can set it in a film studio and hopefully the emotional journey will reach out to audiences.
I think Playbox Theatre is right to stage classical reimaginings, as well as newly commissioned work. It will be fascinating to see playwright Holly Robinson’s take on Cinderella ~ The Ash Girl for Christmas, and Philip Pullman’s adaptation of Don Quixote as The Scarecrow and His Servant.
As a theatre for the young, it is important to place today’s work alongside a rich, diverse and often very challenging, back catalogue of worldwide drama.