From the Playbill :
The story of King John has been exceptionally popular on stage. In Shakespeare’s day a play entitled The Troublesome Reign of King John was reprinted in quarto three times, first in 1591 and later with attribution to William Shakespeare as the author; about half the scholars now believe the script printed in the First Folio was Shakespeare’s updated version of his own earlier work. There were many 18th and 19th Century stagings, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s 1895 silent version of the death scene from King John is not only the earliest Shakespeare ever captured on film but also the oldest extant film clip.
Yet today, the play is rarely produced. I’ve never wanted to direct it, even after the one time I saw it staged. And then... I read it again. And I fell in love.
I fell in love with the interactiveness of the story; the way it draws us in to take sides and root for the characters we like the most. I fell in love with its surprise-filled plot. I fell in love with the passionate complex characters, struggling to make good decisions in difficult times. I became determined to try to figure out why this play has been so popular in the past.
The version you will see is an attempt to recapture some of the spirit of an Elizabethan production on a Globe-like stage. Because Shakespeare’s actors would have been in Elizabethan (not Medieval) costumes, that’s what you’ll see. Because they would have spoken directly to the audience more than we typically do today, that’s what you’ll hear.
We’re also trying to enkindle the glorious feeling of English patriotism by reigniting Elizabethan disdain for foreigners. Henry V creates an English nationalism by forging Welsh, Scots, and others from all parts of the British Isles into a “band of brothers”. King John shows us Englishmen who, for all their faults, are less deceitful, haughty, manipulative, coarse, and unethical than the play’s arrogant French, brutish Austrian, and hypocritical Italian. Both make us proud to be English. (We’re all honorary Englishfolk for the next few hours). Shakespeare twists historical facts to give us a play that stirs national pride.
John has many flaws, and no clear claim to the crown. Yet Shakespeare shows him as a man who for the most part stands up to his enemies, who doesn’t really want to commit murder to attain his ends and doesn’t actually commit the murder history has accused him of, and who is filled with regret. He suffers mightily for his sins. And he leaves an unblemished heir with undeniable legitimacy, cleansing the Plantagenet name and making England true.
And then there is one of Shakespeare’s genuinely great roles – the Bastard. As the illegitimate son of King Richard the Lionheart, he has all the natural Plantagenet intelligence, charisma, heart and soul, yet he stands – like us, the audience – a bit outside of the action, where he can comment on the foibles of the 1% and their political decisions with insightful wit and an unblemished moral compass.
Thanks for joining us for this rare theatrical adventure as we Occupy King John!
Lesley Schisgall Currier, Director