Breakneck Shakespeare

My second play at One88 yesterday was Shakespeare’s Histories: Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace. This show is performed by John D. Huston. I’ve written about Mr. Huston before after seeing his one man Charles Dicken’s: A Christmas CarolMr. Huston will also be coming to my parish St. Philip’s on November 25th to give a performance of his show Screwtape.

Location and times for Shakespeare’s Histories can be found here.

Shakespeare’s Histories is playwright Timothy Mooney’s attempt to fuse together Shakespeare’s historical plays and the events that inspired them. If you are familiar with the type of movie that starts with the phrase “Inspired by Real Life Events,” you may be surprised to discover that Shakespeare wasn’t above taking the same type of liberties with the histories he was recounting.

Breakneck Speed and Broken Necks

Shakespeare's Histories wall show.
Wall projection for Shakespeare’s Histoires

The reason this show requires breakneck speed is that it compresses 29 hours of material into one hour. As the show progresses, Huston moves back and forth from a flow-chart illustrating the lineage of English Kings from 1066 onward, to clips from Shakespeare’s 10 historical plays, which illustrate the flow chart.

Huston is in fine form as he recounts these histories. Mooney’s play contains several of Shakespeare’s best known speeches. They also contain several of Shakespeare’s more colourful characters. Huston moves seamlessly between these different individuals. As with any play with such diverse speeches there are those that stand above the others. The St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V and “My horse, My horse, my kingdom for a horse” from Richard III were two that really stood out to me.

There are very few physical props. There is a chair. There are t-shirts that mark transitions, and a slide show that keeps the historical events in front of the audience. There are a couple of audience props, but you need to see the show to appreciate those.

I’ve heard that these plays are one of the influences on Game of Thrones. I’ve never watched the show, but know of it’s violent reputation from the odd YouTube clip. After watching this show you’ll get a better appreciation of how much connivance and violence were a part of Shakespeare’s Histories. A broken neck might be a relatively merciful way to meet death.

A Less Than Breakneck Summary

I read a synopsis of Mooney’s book that suggest that the play run from 60-75 minutes. I think Huston’s decision to go for the shorter time is a good one. The 60 minute limit helps to remind the hearer that these were times of great action. Often that action was bloody, and treacherous.

I really enjoyed Shakespeare’s Histories. It helps you understand the plays better, and it helps you understand Shakespeare a little better. Though, with the breakneck pace, you really must pay attention throughout.


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