To the theatre, ‘once more’; Henry V hits the stage this January

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall with our English dead.” – Henry V, William Shakespeare

If you think ‘improv’ when you think of Grindstone Theatre, you’re going to want to re-examine that thought.

For the second time in less than a year, Grindstone Theatre is taking on Shakespeare (well, sort of), this time along with The Malachites, an internationally-touring Shakespeare company based in East London. Grindstone Theatre last took on Shakespeare in their production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by  Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield last April, and are back at it with this co-production of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Henry V runs January 12 – 28 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (10037 – 84 avenue).

The connection between Grindstone Theatre and The Malachites goes back before either company was formed. Byron Martin, Grindstone’s founder and Artistic Director, and Danielle LaRose, The Malachite’s Director of Music & Education, met in theatre school – first at Grant MacEwan and then again at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Danielle says, “[Byron] ended up returning to Edmonton and I stayed in the UK, but now that we’re in the same city again, it seemed a natural opportunity for a reunion! When we went into talks about Henry V, Grindstone was about to mount their first “Shakespeare” play with The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged and Byron was really excited to tackle a full-on Shakespeare production- so we gave him an epic 14 person history play to break him in nice n easy!”

As you may know, Henry V, is a coming of age story of King Henry V of England, who has been introduced to us in Shakespeare’s previous work as a bit of a roguish prince. Taking place during the Hundred Years’ War, specifically around the Battle of Agincourt, we see Henry discover the horror of war as he leads his troops into a battle in which they are hopelessly outnumbered.

This particular production of the show features a gender-balanced cast that includes Brynn Lindsey, Canada’s first female Henry V. Danielle emphasizes that the gender-balanced casting was not meant to be a statement, but rather a reflection of the production team’s unwillingness to let the gender of the characters as written confine which actor was chosen for the part. “For Henry V, we have a brilliant company of local artists. Many of them happen to be women playing male roles, but we are not treating these characters any differently simply because they’re played by females… We simply choose the best artist for each role, and for the make-up of the company. For me personally, the gender of the actor is incidental – I’m looking to see whether they can convincingly and truthfully bring the character to life. Although an actor’s gender can certainly contribute to the telling of that story, I don’t see why it should be the main focus. The character’s journey is much more exciting! We hope that people get pulled into the story, forgetting the gender of the actor and seeing the character only. I hope that this way we can open up more opportunities for fantastic actors who just happen to be women, as typically “female” roles are few and far between in Shakespeare, and also open up our perceptions as audience members to the wonderful possibilities gender balanced casting can offer.”

 Another unique element to this production of Henry V is the live score designed by Danielle, who also serves as the music director in addition to her roles of co-producer and actor. Danielle says that the live score she has designed is a perfect intersection of her background in choral singing and musical theatre with her love of classical theatre. “Since I began writing/arranging music for Malachite productions several years ago, I have found a wonderful, organic way to marry those two passions.The key is dedication to truthful story telling. Because the actors play and sing the music live every night with no recorded sound, there’s a beautiful partnership that blossoms between the story and the music, and it’s incredible to welcome the audience into that living story, creating a whole new dynamic  (sorry, music pun!) each and every night. I start by sourcing a load of contemporary music from the time of the story, so for Henry V we have some stunning 13th/14th century polyphonic melodies weaving in and out of the action as well as some hymns and gregorian chant as, historically, King Henry V was quite a pious man (plus they sound gorgeous in the church). Shakespeare himself wrote music for his plays as well as drawing on it as inspiration for his poetry (“If music be the food of love”) and his close working relationship with his composers means we have a fairly well-documented cache of Elizabethan music to draw from to bring the audience back to his time. I love choosing music for history plays because it’s a bit like Game of Thrones- you can convey a family’s entire back story with a simple, well-chosen melody on the right combination of instruments!”

While the play itself may be more than 400 years old, The Malachites and Grindstone Theatre are sure to breathe a new life into it this January. Henry V plays at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (10037 – 84 avenue) January 12 – 28. Tickets are $20 – $25 at the door or through Tix on the Square.

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