The Royal Shakespeare Company creates theatre at its best, made in Stratford-upon-Avon, and shared around the world.
The stage managers constantly monitor rehearsals because decisions in the rehearsal room directly affect the production process. Do we need an extra cushion on the sofa? Which way should a door open? How fast should a scene change? The stage managers record these continuous developments and pass notes to the relevant workshop. They keep a detailed script ('the book' or the 'show bible') with markings of entrances, exits, scene changes and actors' positions that are crucial for the running of the show once it gets on stage.
Background research and visits from expert speakers help to set the context for rehearsals. The cast visited Westminster Abbey to look at the tombs of the kings and nobles they would be portraying, and to get behind the history books to sense the people who really lived.
Henry V is buried in a secret chapel (pictured) which is rarely open to the public. Richard II and Henry V and their wives are buried in the Abbey. Henry IV had a particular respect for Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in 1170, and so chose to be buried at Canterbury Cathedral.
Sections of the set are often built in the rehearsal room so actors can get a feel for it before they reach the stage. Their first rehearsal on the stage is only four days before the first public performance.
Rehearsal props and costume help actors to build them into their performance from the start.
When the actors perform in full costume on stage for the first time, it will already feel somewhat familiar to them.
The technical rehearsal in the theatre is when all the special effects are finalised, such as lighting, sound, and set changes.
This is when precise decisions are made about when each effect will take place. These timings become the 'cues' which will be given over the radio by the Deputy Stage Manager to everyone involved in the performance.
The final run of the show is the dress rehearsal, in which every element of the production is practised together, before the first performance in front of an audience.
The moment of anticipation just before curtain up. In an auditorium such as ours, with a thrust stage where the audience surrounds the actors on three sides, there is no curtain. The start of the show is referred to colloquially as ‘going up’, and instead of raising the curtain, the DSM announces ‘Lights Up on Part One’ for those back of house, as the action gets underway onstage.
Dressers help actors to change costume during shows. Sometimes with only seconds to effect a complex outfit change, several dressers can work on different elements simultaneously. If an actor is required to change quickly from one costume to another, intricate fastenings are replaced with Velcro, poppers or magnets to speed up the process.
At the start of Richard II, the king feels invincible and is confident of his birth right. He is immaculately dressed, rich costume symbolizing his power and authority. During the course of the play, he makes mistakes which bring about his downfall. He loses the support of the nobility, and makes some powerful enemies.
At the beginning of the play, Richard banishes his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, from England for six years. When John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke’s father dies, Richard seizes all his land and money. This sets Bolingbroke on a path to return to England and depose Richard. He amasses a great army, and supported by much of the nobility, he succeeds in deposing Richard, and is crowned Henry IV.
Henry V’s journey begins in the play Henry IV Part I, set during the reign of his father Henry IV. As the Prince of Wales, or Prince Hal, as he is known, he enjoys a relaxed lifestyle and spends his time carousing with Sir John Falstaff in taverns, treating life as a chance to have fun and thinking little about the responsibilities that lie ahead.
In the film, you can see one of the scenes set in the tavern, featuring Prince Hal and Falstaff.
On more than one occasion Hal vows to change his ways:
“Yet herein will I imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother-up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”
Henry IV Part I, Act I, Scene 2
At the beginning of the play the character of Chorus asks the audience to help the actors create the epic scenes in the play by using their imagination:
"...can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play."
Henry V, Prologue, Act I, Scene 2
We are taking 'King & Country' to London’s Barbican Theatre, to the Shanghai Grand Theatre, Beijing's National Centre for the Performing Arts and the Hong Kong Arts Festival in China, and to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
We regularly tour our shows to smaller regional theatres across the UK. We also produce abridged versions for young people and families which tour to schools, such as The Famous Victories of Henry V.
King & Country cast member Sam Marks, who understudies the part of Henry V, performed the famous speech in which Henry leads his army into the battle.
"This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3
The King & Country season is directed by RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran
King & Country Creative Team
Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting Designed by Tim Mitchell
Music by Paul Englishby
Sound Designed by Martin Slavin
Movement by Michael Ashcroft
Fights by Terry King
Associate Director: Owen Horsley
King & Country Cast
Daniel Abbott, Martin Bassindale, Jasper Britton, Antony Byrne, Sean Chapman, Oliver Ford Davies, Nicholas Gerard-Martin, Robert Gilbert, Julian Glover, Alex Hassell, Jim Hooper, Emma King, Jennifer Kirby, Jane Lapotaire, Sam Marks, Dale Mathurin, Christopher Middleton, Evelyn Miller, Matthew Needham, Keith Osborn, Sarah Parks, Leigh Quinn, Joshua Richards, Antony Sher, David Tennant, Simon Thorp, Obioma Ugoala, Andrew Westfield, Simon Yadoo
King & Country is supported by
Arts Council England
Henry V is supported by
Mark Pigott KBE
The RSC Acting Companies are generously supported by
THE GATSBY CHARITABLE FOUNDATION and THE KOVNER FOUNDATION
With thanks to
Dean and Chapter of Westminster for use of Westminster Abbey images
Museum of London for use of cast visit image
All other images, video and audio content © RSC
Lucy Barriball, Sara Beaumont, Ellie Kurtz, Richard Lakos, Kwame Lestrade, Angus McBean, Keith Pattison, David Tett, Reg Wilson, David Woodings
Curator of the exhibition
Laura Keating, Events and Exhibitions Project Officer for the RSC