Circa Theatre Online, Global

23/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

Production Details

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…”  

The beauty of Shakespeare’s language is unparalleled and if you ever experienced Ray Henwood speak the speeches of the Bard, you’ll know it was a moment to treasure.

Thankfully, you can again.

On the 23rd April, we’re celebrating the joint birthday of Circa Theatre and William Shakespeare by sharing a production with you that’s very close to our heart.

Share 90 minutes with one of New Zealand’s finest performers as he relishes the beauty and poetry of the Bard’s language.

Please Note: The recording is high quality audio, allowing you to hear the beautiful soliloquies performed by Ray as you go throughout your day.

Available on Circa Theatre’s website from Thursday 23rd April, this is an experience you don’t want to miss. 

Theatre , Spoken word , Solo , Audio (podcast) ,

1 hr 30 min (in 18 parts)

Engrossing, provoking, moving

Review by Terry MacTavish 25th Apr 2020

When did you fall in love with Shakespeare? When I was in my early teens, an elderly anglophile headmistress (who’d been at boarding school with my mother) passed on to me a posh BBC recording, an LP of distinguished actors reading some of his great scenes. I thought I’d never heard anything so wonderful as Shakespeare’s verse, and slavishly copied every intonation of a young Judi Dench as Perdita.  

Ray Henwood was similarly struck by John Gielgud, who toured New Zealand with Ages of Man, and many years later was inspired to create his own one-man show of Shakespearean speeches. Circa presented it as part of the Compleate Workes Project in 2009. Henwood’s quality as an actor, shrewd interpretation of the lines, mellifluous tones and understated humour combine to make this a most rewarding experience, from his first stirring cry, “O for a muse of fire!”

Circa has released the recording to coincide with Shakespeare’s (presumed) birthday on 23rd April. It is a charming tribute to Will but serendipitously also suits well with Anzac Day, with its decided emphasis on warfare. I am surprised to note how many of Shakespeare’s plays do involve war. In particular we are treated to substantial chunks of Henry IV and V, commencing appropriately with the exhortation of the Prologue that we prepare to use our imaginations: “Think, when we speak of horses, that you see them!”

The format of the show, delicately shaped and directed by Peter Hambleton, is that of a lecture, illuminating and thought-provoking, occasionally controversial. Sometimes Henwood appears to be simply reciting lines, beautifully and intelligently of course, but without attempting to inhabit the role or give an authentic sense of the character.

He makes no effort, for instance, to ‘act’ Lady Macbeth, nor identify with her (though he seizes the chance offered to quote a delicious line from PG Wodehouse) and her inclusion seems pretty much a token nod to the playwright’s strong women.

But when Henwood begins to deliver Angelo’s tortured speech from Measure for Measure, pulsating with appalled awareness of human frailty, something seems to take hold of him and, listening, I am gripped likewise. We are taken into the very heart of a man who has never had to wrestle with temptation, and therefore fancied himself superior, now devastated by the shocking realisation that after all he is no better than other men.

The title is taken from the cynical ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech in As You Like It, which will be delivered at the end, and which gives a loose shape to the programme. After a neat introduction reminding us how much of our vocabulary and favourite sayings we owe to Shakespeare, we are introduced to some of the younger men in the canon: the lover Lorenzo, wild Mercutio, existentially conflicted Hamlet, and then swaggering soldiers seeking the bubble reputation in Henry’s army.

Henwood plunges into “the Henrys” with enthusiasm, differentiating between many characters with impressive command of accents, sharing with us the thrill of imminent battle. But it is his Falstaff that tugs at my heart-strings, the old man humiliated and cruelly cast aside by the young king when he comes of age.

Some of the sonnets are pressed into service to show Shakespeare’s melancholy acceptance of late middle age and disillusion in love. These are rendered simply beautifully, as soothing as they are sad.

Iago, Brutus, and Shylock (“a difficult character to pigeonhole in these politically correct times”) – these are presented with clever analysis, a degree of deliberate provocation and a genuine excitement (“listen to this!”) that is very engaging. And who but Henwood would hiss “instruction”, the last word of Shylock’s famous speech, so that it sounds like a knife being sharpened?

Given that Henwood excelled in comedy, creating many of Roger Hall’s iconic characters (and literally fathering the gorgeously irrepressible Dai), I would have expected more speeches from the comedies – Sir Toby Belch may not be full of wise saws, but his belly is certainly with good capon lined! Clearly there is plenty of material left, and one can only wish there had been many such programmes.

I am engrossed, provoked, moved even to shed a tear, but will considerately leave you to discover your own special moments. There is much to be said for eschewing all the ingenious stagings of the plays to concentrate on the source: the texts. Shakespeare saw himself as a poet before a playwright, and his sublime language alone will “on your imaginary fancies work”.  I’ll just urge you to take your own time over listening to this recording, perhaps going back to the scripts to think over the lines for yourself, then savouring Henwood’s rendition again – maybe even arguing with him over some challenging interpretations!

If I could but summon back Ray Henwood’s shade (he died just eight months ago), I would beg for more of Shylock, Angelo, Falstaff – well, all the Henry IV characters really – and the whole of King Lear and The Tempest which suit him so well, but alas, Prospero’s final words in the Epilogue ring in my ears: “Now my charms are all o’er-thrown… Set me free!” 

Let’s just be grateful Circa has shared this archival treasure. 


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