Graham Abbey has been a member of the Stratford Festival acting company for 18 years. He also directs. He is the founder and a.d. of the Groundling Theatre Company in Toronto and directed its opening production of The Winter's Tale this past season. He is also a writer, and has developed two television series with CBC. In his present incumbency in Stratford, he is not billed as a writer but rather as "conceiver, adaptor" (and associate director). He has adapted Shakespeare's four history plays into a new, cohesive two-play presentation titled "Breath of Kings", just opened at the Festival for the coming summer (and after, I'm sure) season, and much heralded. However, the wise planners have set the plays in the Tom Patterson Theatre, knowing that not everyone will want to go to a history play in the big Festival Theatre, no matter how much respected.
In his introductory essay in the program(s) - one for each separate play, the one called Rebellion, the other Redemption - Mr. Abbey describes the provenance of his idea, beginning 15 years ago when the events of 9/11 shook us all. It seemed that one turned to God or Shakespeare, not necessarily in that order. He has been working on it ever since, both written and orally: he plays King Henry IV in Part I Rebellion) and Part II (Redemption). So who am I, having seen this new concept only once, to attempt to assess what I have seen? I love the history plays; I've read them all, several times, and seen them several times each, as well. But I haven't lived with them for 15 years or absorbed them into my brain and tongue. I was looking forward to seeing the new staging, adaptation, version, whatever. The last one I saw (In England) was
The Wars of the Roses, a 1963 theatrical adaptation of William Shakespeare's first historical tetralogy, which deals with the conflict between the House of Lancaster and the House of York over the throne of England, a conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. The plays were adapted by John Barton, and directed by Barton himself and Peter Hall at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. (Wikipedia)
And then there was a TV series, The Hollow Crown, featuring the histories (2012) and stars from British stage and screen. It's all been respectable, given reverential treatment, deservedly.
I have to say, I was disappointed with this latest mash-up of the history plays. What was the point of squeezing them into two productions? Where was the arc? Did I learn anything new?
In all fairness - I'll try again. Maybe if I read Mr. Abbey's scripts?