With a long career as a director for stage and screen, director nominated by Olivier Amy Hodge has worked in some of the most respected theaters in the country. His last collaboration at Shakespeare’s Globe is Henry VIIIa hard-hitting revival of the infamous classic that saw the original Globe burn to the ground.
This new production focuses on the untold stories of the women who inhabited King Henry’s world. Amy sat down to speak to BroadwayWorld about her influences for the play, as well as what makes theater such an important and exciting platform for connecting with an audience.
Henry VIII is one of Shakespeare’s least frequently revived plays; what attracted you to this project in particular in this adaptation?
When I started talking to Michael Terry, we did a read of it in its original form, and it was three and a half hours — there’s a lot about the machinations of power in the halls of male conversation. But even in the first version, there is this bit of Katherine which I find simply fantastic, it is really clear and powerful. We have this woman standing there claiming space in a very male dominated world.
I think the play is rarely performed because during those three and a half hours there is a lot of discussion, but Katherine has this centrality that I loved. Then started the conversation about how you give more access to female voice within the project, so we started by going to Hannah Khalil.
Princess Mary doesn’t get anything in the original and trying to find a place for her was really exciting, as was giving voice to Anne Bullen. It’s interesting because when you think of Henry VIII, you immediately think of his wives and the breaking up of the church, but actually in the original, that wasn’t what he was really interested in. It’s all about this obsession with having a male heir, but King Henry is with this real, living daughter who is barely mentioned. We’ve given Mary speeches from other plays, and I think they give her an arc that really holds up – Natasha Cottrial plays it beautifully.
Absolutely, it was definitely a shared intention. We felt very clear taking the material and highlighting the parts that spoke to us. There are a thousand and one ways you can understand this and there are many valid interpretations, but I think we all felt a shortage of female voices in the material – we even gave Henry more flesh! In our production, you observe the bold and gratuitous behavior of men where women are their pawns and playthings.
Henry VIII is famous for having the most people on stage so it’s very ceremonial, but we only had a company of twelve and five musicians. At this time of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, it seemed really interesting.
There was a conscious choice on the part of the creative team to shine a light on female stories, but there’s always one big part that we really honored and leaned into, which was the fall of the Cardinal Wolsey. It’s not about gender it’s about ambition and access to power, ultimately that’s where corruption gets you. There’s this gendered component, but I think it’s also worth saying that the narrative of power is told through men and it’s crazy when you realize that it’s all happening in this material of yesteryear.
What do you think of Shakespeare in its traditional form?
I don’t feel like I have one answer to that because each production is so distinct. We all know that Shakespeare is amazing and this play has the most beautiful material, the language of some speeches is truly exquisite. Shakespeare’s work stands the test of time because of the themes and also because it gives us access to the emotional landscape of human behavior. Different directors will interpret this in different ways.
Shakespeare’s understanding of form is so sophisticated; the fact that he plays with formal vanity is long before his time. His ability to use the tools of theater is truly marvelous and I was enthused by that in Henry VIII, especially in the part where Anne is visited by what we imagine to be the six wives. It’s a magical realistic moment that’s only touched upon in the original and we’ve expanded it.
Much of your work focuses on the female experience. What do you think makes it an ideal platform for discussing and critiquing social imbalances?
We are all artists because we want to use performance to think differently. We are using theater to probe the variety of concerns we all have at this complicated time. We talk about the world we live in and try to make people think.
There’s a lot of my work that looks at the feminine and critiques our access to female identity. Ultimately, you wear the things you are passionate about. I can’t help but put that in my work. Henry VIII is really in this area, with Fantastically great women who changed the world, which is another show I’ve been working on recently. These shows exist as true moments of expression for all the women forgotten in history, of whom there are many, who need to be heard.
Shakespeare was obsessed with popularity and I often think of him sitting on our creative shoulder, reminding us that he wants to be current. Better to be honest with ourselves.
There is also something exciting about the shared experience of live theater. We’re all sitting there, hearts beating in unison, staring into the whites of the eyes of the actors and the people sitting next to us. It’s about this unique space democracy where we can talk about the things that matter in an entertaining way. Politics doesn’t have to be dowry, it can be silly and confrontational, and I think the two projects as separate plays really do that.
The last time you were at the Globe was in 2020, when you realized beware of women. How does it feel to be back after confinement?
Oh it’s lovely, it’s such a beautiful place. I like both the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, but there’s a real technique you need to be aware of as a director. The leap from rehearsal room to performance space here feels bigger than it often is. The storytelling experience in the wooden “O” is second to none. I found it really dynamic and it was definitely both challenging and rewarding for all of us. I feel privileged to be back, it’s a privilege to do work there.
Can you talk about the next step in the pipeline for you?
Fantastically great women who changed the world is the next step, and I’m really excited that it’s being shared across the country. It’s really joyful work and I’m delighted that it touches the public. I am also making a short film for the BFI, which deals with female sexuality and young girls and their ability to influence their own pursuit of sex.
What is the one provocation you want the audience to Henry VIII take with them?
It’s funny, if you had asked me the question before rehearsals, I probably would have had a different answer. There is something to seeing the story of Henry VIII as one would not perceive it and to giving access to women and the world around him. So many people chatting in the hallways around the courthouse would have been well known. It’s about what Henry’s obsession with the male heir has done to many. Even the demolition act of the church is given in one line in the original, but we gave it an entire motion sequence.
Ultimately, we ask the question: what is the impact of Henry being obsessed with a male heir and why are women always forgotten in these stories?
Photo credit: Richard Davenport / Marc Brenner