“I definitely lobbied [for the job],” says Liz Fisher, who is directing Penfold Theatre’s new production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, “because it’s a play that’s been very near and dear to my heart for many, many years."
Fisher says it was one of the first plays she ever performed in and got her "hooked" on Shakespeare.
"It’s such a powerful play, not only because of the story of Henry and his soldiers and their sort of crazy attempt to take over the kingdom of France," she says, "but also the sort of very personal ties between these soldiers and the reasons why they serve and how they support each other.”
The play opened on May 30 as the ninth annual "Penfold in the Park" production of free outdoor theater in Round Rock. Penfold's artistic directors Nathan Jerkins and Ryan Crowder selected Henry V in part because they were looking for a Shakespeare play that could also work as a sort of summer action movie.
“Nathan and I... had been talking with Joseph [Garlock] and Toby Minor over at the Violent Crown about doing a show together that really showcased stage combat,” says Crowder. “It’s something I love and have done with these guys – they’re fantastic at it. [We were] looking for an excuse to do the kind of summer-blockbuster-lots-of-fun-battle-scenes type of play, and landed on Henry V.”
Garlock, who runs the Violent Crown stage combat company with Minor, stars as Henry. In developing the fight choreography for this production, Garlock, Minor and Fisher decided to go beyond the traditional Shakespearian swordfight.
“[Liz] had this idea of having modern soldiers telling a war story,” Garlock says. “So building on that, what we found was in our fight choreography, there isn’t sort of one idea of what it is to war. There’s guns in some sequences, there’s swords in some sequences. There’s no weapons at all, [or] there’s knives. And we kind of go back and forth between them. The idea being, again, this is a story that unfortunately is rather timeless. War has [been] waged for years.”
“So it’s a kind of combo of not only throwing punches and beating each other up with swords, but also something that gets a little closer to dance,” says Fisher. “We don’t have a cast of millions for this epic war story. We have six bodies – six actors telling the entire story. So there’s a lot of trying to figure out how do you make six people feel like an army or a charging line of horses. And that was part of the real fun of this project.”
“It is a blockbuster,” says Garlock. “I mean, it’s a heavy show. There are wonderfully funny moments, but there’s a lot of action [and] there’s a lot of drama to it as well. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on just how ambitious it was, and that they feel like we pulled it off. So that’s nice to hear.”