Friday, October 20, 2023

Rockspeare 1H6


Rockspeare Henry VI Part 1 (or Rockspeare 1H6) written by William Shakespeare, adapted by Lexi Sekuless Productions, at The Mill Theatre, Dairy Road, Canberra October 18 – November 4, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 19

Production Team:

Director & Verse Nurse – Lexi Sekuless
Composer & Sound Designer – Andre Pinzon
Costume Designer – Tania Jobson
Asst to Costume Designer & Specialised Props – Zelda Trichard
Set Designer – Kathleen Kershaw
Movement Directors – Annette Sharp & Timmy Sekuless
Lighting Designer – Stefan Wronski
Photographer – Daniel Abroguena

Suffolk – Sarah Nathan-Trusdale; Gloucester – Kate Blackhurst
Warwick/Basset – Maxine Beaumont; York – Heidi Silberman
Dauphin (Queen) – Rachel Howard; Joan of Arc – Alana Denham-Preston
King Henry VI/Young Talbot/Warder – Chips Jin
Talbot/Margaret – Stefanie Lekkas; Mortimer – Sarah Carroll
Reignier/Burgundy/Vernon – Emily O’Mahoney
Contingency – Tracy Noble & Elaine Noon

The tiny Mill Theatre, within the newly developing Dairy Road complex – “fostering the emergence of an intentional and caring community” – reminds me of attending the only slightly larger Théâtre de la Huchette on the Left Bank in Paris, where Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice chauve) and The Lesson (La leçon) has been playing continuously since 1957.

It’s the boldness, the sense of of an original approach, and a small audience seeking something different that makes the link for me back to my visit in 1976.  Will The Mill keep going as long?  Sekuless plans, as I understand from her rivetting program (you’ll see what I mean when you get one), to go for four years  after 1H6 with, I guess, at least 2H6 and 3H6.  Might they then, in the order Shakespeare wrote them, backtrack and do J, and then on for R3, R2, 1H4, 2H4, H5, and H8?  

Shakespeare wrote King John and Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 in barely three years, 1590-92, still a young writer in his twenties.  You only need to read the plot summaries at to see that these plays are political narratives rather than in-depth character studies.

Sekuless has picked up the energy, the rhythm and added a modern soundscape, to make something original in form – an often forceful telling of the stories about the death of Henry V, the political wilderness left in place for his young son in England and in France, and the turmoil of conflicting power-figures settling into the Wars of the Roses.  The first episode is about Can England keep France? against the spiritual and physical power of Joan of Arc; and who genuinely supports the new king – the red or the white, or someone like his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, with a broader view of what’s best for the country?

Instead of interminable speeches and arguments, which, as Verse Nurse, Sekuless has considerably trimmed, this play is all action.  Speeches in forceful pentameters are thrown at each other, wars in France are fought in dance-form, deaths are points of stillness and fear for what comes next, and decisions are reached – compromises – with a waving away of hands, eyebrows raising, and hummphs of disgust.

It certainly helps to read the plot summary and notes in the program, but even then don’t imagine you will follow the precise twists and turns in dance, in character and argument.  In the end it’s the total picture which is the key.

And, despite the title Rockspeare, don’t expect to rock’n’roll.  The music and soundscape is evocative in its own special way.

In the end, the question is, What’s it all about?  It’s about the last week in Australia and on the world stage. If Albanese is the new king, then Yes23 is the White Rose or Uluru Faction (York in Henry’s day), while No is the Red Rose or Dutton faction (Lancaster in Henry’s day).  If Joe Biden is the king without enough power, then Israel is White Rose and Hamas is Red Rose, with unpredictable supporters hanging about, and a political marriage unlikely.

In other words, what Shakespeare saw in his history from Ascension Day 27 May 1199 when King John ascended the English throne, to Henry VI’s death 21 May 1471, having "lost his wits, his two kingdoms and his only son" and possibly killed on the orders of King Edward IV, was little different from what’s happening in the world today.  Lexi Sekuless and The Mill team show us Part 1 of a dance of death, ending with King Edward, speaking of Margaret, “daughter to Reignier; afterwards married to King Henry”:

Away with her, and waft her hence to France.
And now what rests but that we spend the time
With stately triumphs, mirthful comic shows,
Such as befits the pleasure of the court?
Sound drums and trumpets! Farewell sour annoy!
For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.   [Exeunt]

That’s the end of Part 3 – in four years’ time.  Don’t miss!  There’s La leçon yet to be learnt.

Scenes from Rockspeare Henry VI Part 1
Lexy Sekuless Productions, Mill Theatre 2023