When I discovered that there was a bunch of kids (of varying ages) doing Shakespeare quite literally right down the street from me, I was left in a bit of a quandary. My kids are 6, 4, and 2. I’ve retold all the tales about how “into” Shakespeare they are. But would they sit still for a show? If so, which one?
We’re scheduled to try The Tempest at the end of this month, which seemed like a perfect fit because that’s the story I told them first (and thus the one they know the best). So Rebel Shakespeare, the group out of Salem, MA, is actually doing a variety of shows throughout the summer, including As You Like It (also being done in Boston by the grownups), Romeo and Juliet, and this week, Henry V.
We decided to give Henry V a shot because it would be a good opportunity to try them out and see if they liked it and such. If not, Christine informed me there’s a whole park where the kids could play. So, off we went to see the show.
Winter Island in Salem is a fun place, complete with a beach, campground, swings, and a nice view of the boats, the kind of place where you can generally come and just hang out. And oh look, there are some people putting on Shakespeare.
I was quite impressed with the production levels, honestly – particularly the costuming. There were children dressed up in flowing royal robes; there were soldiers in armor. I’m impressed that they all carried it off as well as they did, it being a humid 90-degree day, and they’re all in knit long-sleeve outfits, most of them several layers heavy.
We only really stayed for about 20 minutes (more on that in a moment), so I can’t comment on the entire play. But I did quite enjoy their Henry. He was…..intense. Seething is perhaps an even better word. From the moment you see him, he’s got this sort of “Why doesn’t anybody take me seriously?!” face on, which periodically turns into more of an outright “I’m the King, and if you doubt it I’ll have you killed at the snap of my fingers” rage. The young man playing the role (Jackson was his name, although I don’t have the program handy, so I can’t recall his last name) was excellent, and I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see his Crispin’s Day speech. [Although given the brief bit I saw, I imagine it went something like “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…..and if I catch any of you not being happy, I’ll KILL YOU, YOU BASTARDS!” 😉 ]
We only got to see about 20 minutes, as I said, which was probably expected. Here are some random quotes from that time…
My 2yr old son: “Doggie! Doggie! Doggie! WAKE UP! Doggie!” You get the idea :).
My 4-year-old daughter: “Daddy, when is Shakespeare gonna show up?” (This is not as odd as it sounds when you consider that at church, she often asks when Jesus is going to make an appearance. Shakespeare to her is a pretty abstract concept, as seen even more clearly after the show when she told me that her lollipop was Shakespeare-flavored. Her reaction would have been different if it was a story where she knew any of the characters.)
So my wife took the two younger ones for a stroll while I hung out and answered my 6-year-old’s questions: “Why is that guy made and yelling at his friends?”
“Well, because they found out that he wanted to invade France, so they ran and told the King of France all about it.”
“He looks like he might cry.”
“He’s very upset about it! They’re supposed to be his friends.”
“Oh. How come those other guys are holding swords up to their necks?”
“To make sure they don’t run away. You know how these days police men carry guns to stop the bad guys? They didn’t have guns back then, so they used swords.” Later, during Falstaff’s funeral (for lack of a better description): “Why are those people all sad?”
“Well, their friend died, and now they’re all hanging out telling stories about him.”
“What happened then? Why did everybody laugh?”
“You see that one guy with the blonde hair? [Bardolph] He’s funny.”
“Why is he funny?”
“Because he’s very drunk, and very loud, and very inappropriate.” A special nod, by the way, to Bardolph, who seemed to be carrying on the Falstaff tradition quite proudly. He was the very definition of jovial, always wandering around with a bottle in his hand and a smile on his face, as if to say, “I’m happy, I’m drunk, how bad can things really be?” I did not get to see him hanged, and I’m left wondering if he took that same attitude to the gallows…,
I quite enjoyed the show, brief though my visit was, and hope to return later this summer for their As You Like It. Though my kids might understand Romeo and Juliet better, I’m not letting them see the real ending quite yet. The new plan is to leave the 2-year-old at home, bring blankets to sit on, and probably something to occupy the 4-year-old’s attention in case she gets bored. Who knows, maybe it’ll just be me and my 6-year-old. Although I am tempted to sneak out to see their Romeo and Juliet, which I’m told (and I think I mentioned here) actually does take place on the playground swings, which ought to bring a very creepy air to Act III.