I am finally getting the opportunity to step back into the rehearsal room. This is inexpressibly exciting for me, I always feel that being in a working room with actors is my natural place. All the other things I do (from writing, to marking papers, through to motherhood) represent varying levels of me trying to imitate models of others’ work that fall into the overlap between what I would like to achieve and what I am capable of, but in a rehearsal room all I care about is the people I am working with and the text.
Queen Margaret of Anjou, and then of the Royal House of Lancaster, was a key figure in the English medieval Wars of the Roses. Brought over from France to marry King Henry VI, who was barely capable of rule, she was the one tasked with fighting for the right of their son to inherit his father’s title.
In Shakespeare, she is the only character to appear in four plays. Most of her scenes are the thrilling, high octane, intensified emotional points in plays that can otherwise be somewhat sprawling and full of interchangeable lords arguing politics. (I exaggerate. Just a touch.) Unfortunately, the three Henry VI plays are rarely performed, and if they are it is most often as an amalgamation that results in Margaret’s role being heavily cut. Worse, her role in Richard III is often excised completely, because modern directors don’t know how to cope with an element in a play that doesn’t contribute to driving the plot.
In making this new work, Margaret of Anjou, Liz Schafer and Philippa Kelly have done more than re-cut a version of the tried-and-true history-cycle concept. They have performed a bold experiment in dramaturgy, shaping Shakespeare’s material around a fresh narrative arc. Character driven, relationship centred. Instead of the guiding principle being merely to summarise, it is to tell the story of a woman who is among Shakespeare’s most vivid creations. This work asks, why shouldn’t we take what we want most from Shakespeare, and make that our play?
Here is a short paper I gave on the project at the University of Sydney recently:
This piece has already had rehearsed readings in Perth, Ballarat and the UK, and it will be my pleasure to bring it to Sydney on 8 July and 18 August this year.