Andy Jones in a fat suit, a brothel and booze — there’s bound to be comedy in New World Theatre’s latest production, says artistic director Brad Hodder. The theatre company, which has been running Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” for the past couple of weeks, launched “Henry IV, Part 1” at its Indeavour Stage in Cupids Aug. 11.
“It’s much more exciting than the title would make it seem,” Hodder said, chuckling.
Founded by Hodder, Geoff Adams and Aiden Flynn as part of last year’s Cupids 400 celebrations, the theatre company aims to produce professional classical theatre, keeping in mind the cultural landscape of the area back when it was settled in 1610.
“We had this idea that when John Guy and the settlers came over, they would have perhaps seen some of Shakespeare’s plays in places like The Globe. If, for whatever reason, they didn’t need to fend off animals and not starve to death and all that, maybe they would have built a theatre out of a boat — who knows?” said Hodder. “That’s the idea we ran with.”
The company built — entirely with wood and sail canvas, materials that would have been available in Guy’s day — its Indeavour Stage on a design by Adams. Named after the first vessel built by Guy and his settlers, the stage is inspired by the Elizabethan open air playhouses in England, and features a two-and-a-half-storey tiered house and a series of audience stalls. Audience members can choose from stall tickets — covered seating that would have been used by aristocrats — or groundling tickets, offering them the uncovered space between the stage and the stalls where they can sit on their own blankets or pillows, or stand.
“It’s such a cliché, but you step into it and it really is like you’re stepping back in time,” Hodder said. “It feels like, of course Shakespeare needs to be performed there.”
For its inaugural season last year, New World Theatre produced three original Newfoundland pieces, as well as “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which Jones starred as Bottom. It was one of only a handful of Shakespeare productions he’s ever done, although he’d always been interested in the plays. He had a particular desire to play the role of Falstaff (who appears in three of the bard’s plays, including “Henry IV”) and when Hodder suggested the company produce “Henry IV,” Jones signed on.
Clad in a fat suit, Jones portrays the boastful and cowardly knight, whom Jones has discovered is very comical.
“He’s a funny character, but he’s also the centre of a lot of humour in the play. He’s a foolish character, but he’s not necessarily in control of the comedy. I like that aspect of him — in that way, he’s very real,” Jones told The Telegram. “He’s very witty and very smart.”
Jones, a comedian, finds playing the role challenging, all the same.
“He’s just such a huge character. You could spend your whole life just working on this one character. He’s very complex,” he explained.
“I think he is the catch-all for many expressions of the time. A lot of times when I hear him speak, I just put the words ‘As Mom used to say’ in front of it and it makes sense. He’s always saying stuff like, ‘You’re strong enough in the shoulder, you care not who sees your back,’ meaning you’re a coward. CODCO was always full of things our mothers and fathers said, and I think Shakespeare was doing the same thing.”
Jones’ fellow CODCO member Greg Malone plays a couple different roles in the play (as well as playing Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”), including Bardolph, one of Falstaff’s cronies. There’s a moment where the two act alone together, in a scene that’s completely uninfectable,
Jones and Malone were last onstage together three years ago, in Cathy Jones’ All-Star Comedy Travelling Best Medicine Show in Halifax, but other than that they’ve haven’t acted together since CODCO’s CBC-TV show ended in 1992.
“You just kind of let them go. They just do their thing. They show up and they’ve got ideas and they’re very, very good at what they do,” he said.
Like CODCO skits, Shakespeare had the ability to make reference to local culture and events, talking freely about the way life at the time really was and seeing an aspect of humanity in it that authorities didn’t necessarily see, Jones said.
“Of course, the queen and all the English court would have been in the audience, since they came regularly to see Shakespeare’s plays. Luckily, we don’t live in a repressive society like they did. If you did a CODCO sketch about Queen Elizabeth, she’d probably have you locked up or something,” he joked.
One of the biggest challenges in producing “Henry IV” was cutting it down from a 20- or 30-member cast to a script that worked for just nine, Hodder said. Equally challenging is this summer’s dreary and windy weather, although Jones reckons it sometimes adds to the productions.
“When it goes against the show it’s a thrill because you’re realizing the wind is blowing and yet they’re talking about the sun. Sometimes it all gets very quiet and the birds make a certain noise and it’s just perfect for that scene,” he said. “It’s just beautiful to be outdoors on that particular stage.”
Hodder was quick to point out that the stage is located less than an hour from St. John’s.
“Henry IV, Part I,” directed by Hodder, opens with a 1 p.m. show Sunday, and runs until Aug. 28. “The Merchant of Venice,” directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, also runs until Aug. 28, on alternate days.
Both shows play on weekends. Tickets are $25 (stalls) and $15 (groundling) and are available at the LSPU Hall, by calling 753-4531 or online at rca.nf.ca.
A full schedule of New World Theatre Company performances is available online at www.newworldtheatreproject.com.