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Interview: Director of HENRY VIII, Amy Hodge, Talks Women and Re-Interpreting The Bard

The Olivier-nominated director discusses the lost stories of women in history and the joy of reviving Shakespeare's work

Henry VIII | Globe

With an expansive career directing for both stage and screen, Olivier-nominated director Amy Hodge has worked at some of the most respected theatre venues across the country. Her latest collaboration at Shakespeare's Globe is Henry VIII, a punchy revival of the infamous classic that saw the original Globe burn to the ground.

This fresh production focuses on the untold stories of the women who inhabited King Henry's world. Amy sat down to talk to BroadwayWorld about her influences for the piece, along with what makes theatre such an important and exciting platform for communicating with an audience.

Henry VIII is one of Shakespeare's less frequently revived plays; what is it about this adaptation in particular that drew you to the project?

When I first began to talk to Michelle Terry, we did a reading 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 corridors of male conversation. But even in the earliest version, there is this strand of Katherine that I think is just fantastic, it's really clear and empowered. We have this woman standing there, claiming the space in a very male dominated world.

I think the play is rarely done because in those three and a half hours there is a lot of chat, but Katherine has this core strand that I just loved. Then began the conversation of how you give the female voice more access within the project, so we started by going to Hannah Khalil.

Princess Mary gets nothing in the original and trying to find a space for her felt really exciting, as did giving a voice to Anne Bullen. It's interesting because when you think of Henry VIII, you immediately think of his wives and breaking up the church but actually in the original, that wasn't what he was actually interested in. It's all about this obsession with having a male heir, but there 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 - Natasha Cottriall plays her beautifully.

There was a very clear comment about systems of power and toxic masculinity in your production. Was this a shared intention from the outset between yourself, writer Hannah Khalil, and designer Georgia Lowe?

Absolutely, it was definitely a shared intention. We felt really clear on taking the material and shining a light on the parts that spoke to us. You could understand it in tonnes of ways and there are many valid interpretations out there, but I think we all felt a dearth of female voice within the material - we've even given Henry more meat! In our production, you watch the audacious, gratuitous, behaviour of men where women are their pawns and playthings.

Henry VIII is famous for having the greatest number of 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 that felt really interesting.

There was a conscious choice from the creative team to shine light on the female stories but there's still a big strand that we really honoured and leant into, which is Cardinal Wolsey's fall from grace. This isn't about gender but instead about ambition and access to power, ultimately, its what corruption takes you to. There is that gendered strand to it, but I think it's also worth saying that the power narrative is told through the men and it's wild when you realise it's all happening in this material from yesteryear.

Henry VIII | Globe
Queen Katherine (Bea Segura)
haunted by visions of King Henry's wives

How do you feel about Shakespeare in its traditional form?

I don't feel that I have one answer to that because every production is so distinct. We all know Shakespeare is amazing and this play contains the most beautiful material, the language in some of the 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 behaviour. Different directors will interpret that in different ways.

Shakespeare's understanding of form is so sophisticated; the fact that he plays around with formal conceit is way before his time. His capacity to use the tools of theatre is really wonderful and I was excited about that in Henry VIII, particularly in the part where Anne gets visited by what we imagine to be the six wives. It's a magical realist moment that is only touched on in the original and we've expanded it.

A lot of your work focuses on the female experience. What is it about theatre that you think makes it an ideal platform to discuss and critique social imbalance?

We're all artists because we want to use performance to think differently. We use theatre to probe into the variety of concerns that we all have in this complicated time. We talk about the world in which we live and try to get people thinking about it.

There's a big strand of my work that is looking at the feminine and critiques about our access to female identity. At the end of the day, you carry the things that impassion you. I can't help but put that into my work. Henry VIII really sits in that realm, along with Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, which is another show I've been working on recently. These shows exist as real moments of expressing all the different forgotten women of history, of which there are many, that need their voices heard.

Shakespeare was obsessed with being popular and I often think about him sitting on our creative shoulder, reminding us that he wants to be current. Better that we are honest to ourselves.

There's also something exciting about the shared experience of live theatre. We're all sitting there, hearts beating as one, looking in the whites of the eyes of the actors and the people sitting next to us. It's about that unique democracy of space where we can talk about the things that matter in an entertaining way. Politics don't need to be dower, they can be silly and confrontational, and I think both projects as distinct pieces of theatre are really doing that.

The last time you were at the Globe was 2020, when you directed Women Beware Women. What is it like to be back post-lockdown?

Oh it's lovely, it's such a lovely place. I love both the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, but there's a real technique you need to be aware of as a director. The jump from the rehearsal room to the performance space here feels bigger than often is the case. The experience of storytelling in the Wooden 'O' is second to none. I found that really dynamic and it was definitely both challenging and enhancing for us all. I feel privileged to be back, it's a privilege to make work there.

Can you talk about what's next in the pipeline for you?

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World is next up, and I'm really excited for that to be shared across the country. It's a really joyful piece of work and I'm thrilled for that to hit audiences. I'm also making a short film for the BFI, which is all about female sexuality and young girls and their capacity to hold agency over their own pursuit of sex.

What is the one provocation that you want the audiences of Henry VIII to take away with them?

It's funny, if you'd asked me before rehearsals, I would probably have had a different answer. There is something about seeing the story of Henry VIII as you wouldn't perceive it to be and giving access to the women and the world around him. So many of the people who would have been chit-chatting in the corridors around court would have been well known. It's about what Henry's obsession with the male heir did to many. Even the act of the church getting broken up is given one line in the original, but we've given it an entire movement sequence.

Ultimately, we're asking the question: what is the impact of Henry being obsessed with a male heir and why are the women always forgotten in these stories?

Read our review of Henry VIII

Henry VIII at Shakespeare's Globe from 4 June to 21 October. Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World is touring the UK until 31 July

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport / Marc Brenner

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