“Shakespeare More Exciting than a TV Series” – Henry VI at the Avignon Festival

Henry VI – Shakespeare’s three-part history play – is one of the Bard’s earliest works, and my only experience seeing it performed was not very positive. I spotted an article about a production at the Avignon Festival in France, that claims that the play is “more exciting than a TV series.” Performing all three plays in one day, from 10 am to 4 am, the production is “18 hours long,” though that’s the total running time of the plays (13 hours) including intermissions.

I’ve never seen a Shakespeare play in French (I lived in France for nearly three decades), and I’m not that interested in hearing these plays in translation, but I’m curious to see how the Henry VI plays can be this interesting. I admit to being a bit skeptical, because the plays are long, and the writing isn’t great, but perhaps this French director has done something with them to make them more interesting.

Just last night, after seeing the wonderful RSC production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I was wondering if the RSC would be able to make the Henry VI plays interesting. They’ve done well with the two “weak” plays I’ve seen: Two Gentlemen of Verona and Titus Andronicus; perhaps they can do well with Henry VI. As part of their project of performing all of Shakespeare’s plays over the next five years, the Henrys will certainly be coming up soon.

To be honest, I wouldn’t want to see all three of them in one day. 13 hours, without intermission, sounds like a lot; the Globe Theatre productions I saw were around 3 hours each, so the French version is either longer because of the language – French takes about 10% more words than English – or the director has chosen to play them slowly.

The Henry VI plays will be broadcast on French TV, and available on the Culturebox website. I’m not sure if I can get access to them, but I’m curious to see what all the fuss is about. If you’re in France, you might want to check them out.