Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Telling the whole story

With Hal & Falstaff, Margo McDonald resurrects Henry V's relationships with men

The cast of Hal & Falstaff. Top: Matthew John Lundvall, Melanie Karin, John Doucet. Bottom: Katie Ryerson, Simon Bradshaw and Geoff McBride. Credit: Justin VanLeeuwen

It isn’t by chance that Margo MacDonald finds herself directing Ottawa’s Company of Fools Theatre’s newest show, Hal & Falstaff.

In fact, the adapted play, which combines Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts 1 and 2, was inspired by research she undertook while preparing to play Henry V in the Fools’ outdoor show last summer.  

“In the process of preparing for my role, I read the two-part Henry IV and discovered that the young Hal, Henry V, had a gay lover by the name of Poins,” she says. “Poins and Hal use the same romantic text that Romeo and Juliet use to talk to each other, and in the show we find the two must break up so Hal can become king.”

Henry IV is not often staged, because of its two parts, MacDonald says, but she was determined to find a way. “The relationship between Henry V and Falstaff is by far one of the most interesting relationships to be portrayed onstage. The interaction between both characters speaks to how we must sometimes reject one life to embrace another.”

The play was originally set in an attic, but MacDonald has placed her version in a pub, with a cast of six performing the 22 characters. “On top of this, Prince Hal is portrayed by Katie Ryerson, so there is a question to whether it is a girl playing the role of a man or if it’s something in between. And because of the time and set, we are able to play up the love affair,” she says.

MacDonald has become known for challenging gender roles in her works.

For Hal & Falstaff, she does not shy away from genderbending. “And with Katie, Geoff McBride is playing Mistress Quickly, the hostess of the tavern,” she says.

MacDonald says she is passionate about queer theatre. As an openly queer actor, she has faced the challenge of being typecast at times. “For me, I think it is important to explore gay persons in Shakespeare. After all, we never talk about it in schools. We think that when men say, ‘I would die for you,’ it is some platonic love, when really it is romantic. It is important not to downplay our identity in plays.”

To make the show accessible, it will be performed at three theatres around Ottawa. Admission is pay what you can.