Henry V: Turning Shakespeare Inside Out

Lexie Matheson - Photo Credit: Grae Burton

Stage veteran and transwoman Lexie Matheson talks returning to the stage in director Grae Burton’s vision of an all-female production of Henry V at the Pop-up Globe, Pah Homestead and Pumphouse Amphitheatre.

“Men of few words are the best men”, or in the case of director Grae Burton’s version of an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, men of no words are even better!

A traditionally masculine play, Henry V is the last in a tetralogy recounting the exploits of one of England’s most notorious warmongers. Unlike more widely known Shakespeare productions such as Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V presents themes of battle, brotherhood, and honour over the persistence of love, and light hearted farce. Traditionally masculine tropes spill from the play’s dialogue, and elaborate battle scenes scream testosterone.

Considering the overt prevalence of the patriarchy in this play, the question is to be begged; why an all female cast?

“We want to see what happens with this very male play through a female lens. I found it immensely exciting and the journey has proved to be extraordinary” comments Lexie Matheson on the upturned nature of the production’s casting. Lexie will be performing one of the three female roles in the play as Katherine of Valois’ lady-in-waiting, Alice. A transgender actress, Lexie enjoyed a prolific 35-year acting career before she transitioned. In spite of being a veteran of Shakespeare with 18 different plays on her resumé, it is ten years later that she returns to the stage for her first role as her true self.

“It’s my first role as myself. I was always sieving myself through this male persona that I lived in for all those years” she says, commenting that roles for transpeople are infrequent, and almost always given to cis gendered people. But Burton’s Henry V has not only given Lexie an opportunity to return to the stage; it has also allowed the all female cast to stretch their wings with larger, more complex male roles.

“It is very seldom that any woman would get a role any bigger than Rosalind in As You Like It, which is 800 lines. Henry has got 1500 lines. That is almost double” comments Lexie, praising the opportunity for her cast mates such as Jennifer Matter in the titular role, Katherine Kennard, and Jennifer Freed.

Lexie will be performing her role in Medieval French in one of the play’s nods to traditional Shakespearian performances. This addition will offer an aspect of convention to a play which has turned tradition on its head, and is something that Lexie says she is both excited and nervous about. However, in spite of performing her role in a different language, Lexie comments that the production of Henry V is intended to provide transparency to audiences and invite them into understanding and enjoying a largely neglected Shakespearian text.

Brought to you by Shakeitup! and Sharu Loves Hats, this all-female production of Henry V is touring Auckland during February and March. Don’t miss out on experiencing this unique and  contemporary adaptation, with tickets from as little as $15, there is nothing stopping you!

Henry V, directed by Grae Burton and Natalie Beran and produced by Sharu Delilkan (Sharu Loves Hats), with the support of The Wallace Arts Trust plays, rain or shine (please dress for the weather), at: 

The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Feb 26-27, 7 pm and Mar 6, 5:30 pm – Book at www.henryv.tinytix.nz

PopUp Globe, Feb 28-29 and Mar 7 & 9, 7 pm.  Book at www.popupglobe.co.nz/2016/henry-v/auckland

The Pumphouse,  Mar 3-5, 7 pm.  Book at http://pumphouse.co.nz/shows/henry-v/

Image Credit |  Lexie Matheson by  Grae Burton