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A week of Shakespeare part 2: Henry IV in historical Cupids

Scene from Henry IV Pt 1: Greg Malone, Andy Jones, Paul Rowe, Scott Yetman (photo Victoria Wells)

I spent last week getting culturally back in touch with my English Lit student days. First, I went to see Hamlet on a hill, then Henry IV, Part 1 out in one of North America’s oldest and most historic towns, Cupids.

Since last summer, New World Theatre Project has been producing and performing Shakespeare in a lovely scenic setting an hour’s drive from St. John’s. Cupids is considered to be the oldest settlement on the continent, dating back to the 1600s. So, true to its Elizabethan-era roots, the people behind the New World Theatre Project decided to build a traditional playhouse (called the Indeavour Stage) in the style of Shakespeare’s own Globe theatre in London, England. And, just as one of the big draws of seeing a Shakespeare By The Sea production in St. John’s is the outdoor, ocean-view location, a big draw for people attending a production at the Indeavour is the venue. (And of course the actors, but I’ll get to those in a minute.)

The Indeavour Stage

Cupids is a beautiful and fascinating little community (the playhouse is located just outside), so a trip to see a play gives you the added bonus opportunity of exploring a new place. The Indeavour Stage is also located right next to Cupids Haven, a lovely B&B, which is actually a recently renovated church. So you can imagine the character. And handily, there’s a large tearoom to accommodate theatre patrons, before and after productions – as well as at intermission. Better yet, why not see a show and then stay the night?

Cupids Haven B&B

It was my first visit out to the Indeavour Stage and as a big theatre buff, I fell in love. The building is all natural Newfoundland wood, built in the round. White sail canvas roofing covers the stage and the stall seating areas only, so if you pay a little less to sit in the open-air yard, you’ll get wet if it rains. And people will call you a Groundling (the name given to poorer people back in Elizabethan times who paid just a penny to get into the theatre, but couldn’t afford the extra for proper seats).

The audience begins to gather in the stalls pre-show

What I particularly like about the theatre is its intimacy. I think Shakespeare – well, most theatre – works best in an intimate setting. That said, the stage is roomy and has great levels… a balcony and a concealed hatch. And the actors use the yard and the audience stalls too. Which keeps things interesting.

The full company: Edouard Fontaine, Vic Wells-Smith, Bridget Wareham, Brittany Pack, Andy Jones, Edmund Stapleton, Greg Malone, Paul Rowe, Scott Yetman (photo Victoria Wells)

And now to the actors filling that stage. High calibre Newfoundland and Labrador talent… Andy Jones, Greg Malone… and not just local actors, Montrealer Edouard Fontaine was a particularly bright standout star. The company also put on a much-lauded performance of The Merchant of Venice as part of this year's season.

Harry Percy (Edouard Fontaine) and his wife Kate (Bridget Wareham) (photo Victoria Wells)

The plot of Henry IV Part 1 is surprisingly simple: King Henry’s conscience is troubled by how he came to ascend to the throne and he’s also troubled by rebels who want to get him off it. Meantime, his son Henry Jr is spurning his responsibilities and hanging out drinking in brothels with the likes of the scallywag Sir John Falstaff (Andy Jones). The rebellion, led by hothead Harry Percy (Edouard Fontaine), mounts and culminates in a large, bloody battle.

Henry Percy (Hotspur) fights Prince Henry (Hal) played by Edmund Stapleton (photo Victoria Wells)

The gold in Henry IV Part 1 is not so much found in the plot, but in the wit and comedy of the writing and in the journey of a young, wayward prince growing up to eventually accept his role in life. The gold in this particular production, directed by Brad Hodder, was also the dab hand performances of everyone involved, actors putting their hearts and souls into delivering impressive Shakespeare. And a particular treat was Andy Jones as tipsy, silly Falstaff. High comedy, wrapped up in a fat suit and some truly hilarious moments. I particularly enjoyed how he would cast “a plague!” upon pretty much everyone at every opportunity.

Andy Jones as Sir John Falstaff and Edmund Stapleton as Prince Hal (photo Victoria Wells)

I also enjoyed how so many of the characters would gustily end a particularly lengthy speech with “And to conclude!” I think I’m going to start saying that myself.

And to conclude! A plague upon all your houses if you don’t get out to see a New World Theatre Project performance next summer!

(photo Victoria Wells)