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Henry V in 1972: Learning from Ngaio Marsh.

Mark Houlahan University of Waikato Henry the Fifth in 1972: learning from Ngaio Marsh In the evening of October 1, 1972, the James Hay Theatre in the Christchurch Town Hall was officially launched with an impressively mounted production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by Ngaio Marsh, internationally famous as one of the Queens of Crime fiction, and who had directed high quality Shakespeare productions in Ōtautahi/Christchuch since 1943. The production, using over 100 actors and featuring professional actors Marsh had trained who returned from England to perform, was a pinnacle of her production style, and each of the ten performances sold out. Marsh’s meticulously prepared promptbooks for the show, housed in the Turnbull Library, show every cut and move sketched by Marsh in advance. The Marsh archives also document reviewers’ reactions and recollections from the company, and contain a rich array of visual evidence: posters, production stills, and the official programme. In my paper I will use this data to evoke this lavish event. In 2019 the Town Hall re-opened after extensive restoration following the 2011 earthquakes, a process documented in The Christchurch Town Hall 1965-2019: a Dream Renewed (Canterbury UP, 2020); and the venue has begun presenting post-Covid entertainments. It is timely then to pivot back to 1972 and ask what we can learn from this production about the place of Marsh’s theatre in the development of performance culture in Aotearoa; and open out to the wider, ongoing questions as to the place of Shakespeare in our cultural fabric. Mark Houlahan is Associate Professor of English in Te Kura Toi (School of Arts), University of Waikato. He has published widely in Shakespeare Studies with a special focus on the afterlife of Shakespeare’s works in Aotearoa/New Zealand, as seen, for example, in his chapter: “From the Shakespeare Hut to the Pop-up Globe: Shakespeare, memory and New Zealand, 1916-2016”, in G. McMullan, P. Mead, A. G. Ferguson, M. Houlahan, & K. Flaherty (Eds.), Antipodal Shakespeare Remembering and Forgetting in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, 1916 - 2016 (pp. 117-144).
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