When I was in Stratford, Alan Howard was not only playing the lead in the four Henrys but also at first rehearsing and then playing Coriolanus. On four December days I saw him in all five productions! One would have thought that he would have no time to talk; but he is a generous man, and we managed a brief while. It has clearly been an extraordinary experience for him, first to play, in one season, Prince Hal (both parts) and Henry V, and then at once, again in a singlr season, to play both Henry V and Henry VI in all three parts. He is, surely, the only actor in the history of Shakespearean productions ever to do so.
He found Henry V to be deep, sensitive, often surprised by anguish, a practical politician who could kill when he had to - who could, yes, use the system to improve the system - but whose inner being was horribly wounded again and again by the relentless demands of power. In Howard's Henry V the pain is so intricately woven with the power and the glory that one can see, thinking back, how Henry VI is - surprisingly but indeed - the son of his father. What is important to emphasize is that for both characters Howard convinces us that this is a brilliantly legitimate revelation of the scripts. He believes - and it shows on stage - that had Henry V lived long enough, the son would have grown up to be a king of his father's kind. Instead, "he has lived all his life with a hero myth for a father, with everyone constantly talking about that incredible FIGURE: HENRY THE FIFTH. And he has had no mother for any significant length of time, just all those quarreling uncles." Nevertheless, as Howard says and demonstrates in the productions, Henry VI becomes in his own way a powerful man.
And he develops, Howard believes, partly through suffering.
As I have said, what matters most - even from such intelligent and articulate actors - is the playing. And in the details of their playing, in other details of production, and in the controlling thrust of the three-part work, I found myself held, delighted, instructed, and moved - presented, I felt, with a theatrical experience legitimately possible only in the presence of a great script worthily performed. .............
Homer D. Swander
The Shakespeare Quarterly, Spring 1978.