Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Henry Fielding: Historical Register for the Year 1736

We are fairly confident that, apart from our 1990 production, Fielding's satire "The Historical Register for the Year 1736" has not been performed since the introduction of the theatre Licensing Act of 1737. If we're right then the photographs in this post are unique. It's a shame that they're not top quality, but I'm afraid they're the best we have.

The Historical Register was the second play produced by HC Productions.  I don't think there are many plays of the early 18th Century that leap off the page for a contemporary audience, but there was something about this one that struck a chord with the style of theatre we wanted to develop. There is a high energy, quick fire anarchy about the piece that gives the impression of disorganised spontaneity, disguising the tight structure that frames it.  This is re-enforced by the play-within-a-play in which the real audience watches the "Author" interpret a rehearsal of his play to a cynical critic and a member of the ruling class.

In the 1730's Fielding was playing with fire. The Historical Register represents the thrilling but unstable mix of satirical attacks on the government, highly successful commercial theatre and an establishment with the power (and the will) to impose censorship. It is a cocktail that energises the piece - it is like an animated Hogarth cartoon; multi-layered, grotesque, funny and sure to hit its targets. It was an environment in which it was only a matter of time before the government lost patience and put a stop to it.  The particular qualities that we took from the play, and have developed in our subsequent productions, are its pace, its humour, its economy (it's short and lean) and its edginess (in the sense of it being a "rehearsal" which plays with the audience's expectation that it might go wrong).

HC Productions 1990 production of Heny Fielding's The Historical Register for the Year 1736 at Kirk Hammerton Hall, Yorkshire
We don't enjoy the commercial success of Fielding's brief golden period in the theatre and nor do we expect to upset the government; but we have had a good deal of fun borrowing from him and being influenced by him.

Historical Register

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Welcome to the Great Mogul's Company of Comedians

In 1990 we performed Fielding’s Historical Register – as far as we know, for the first time since it was banned in 1737 (we would be delighted to be proved wrong if anyone can furnish us with evidence of other productions). The play was billed as “HC Productions presents the Great Mogul’s Company in Henry Fielding’s Historical Register for the year 1736”. It was a right rollicking romp and it was difficult to persuade audiences that we hadn’t changed Fielding’s script, such was the contemporary nature of its subject matter (war in the desert, corrupt politicians, celebrities courting fame) and its treatment of it -  a play structured as a review with short, sharp sketches, some knockabout comedy and some songs .  The script is only 45 minutes long so the “intervals” provided the perfect vehicle for additional material that reflected the comedic and musical skills of individual performers. We assembled a relatively large team (13), struggled to get funding and, consequently, performed it only 3 times – we have wanted to revive it ever since. Who knows, perhaps we will one day.  We were a relatively new company at the time and have since honed the house style in a dozen or so  subsequent productions that have been built around 2 – 6 actors and 2 musicians.  In the meantime, our intention is to rekindle the spirit of the Great Mogul by generating some heat and light via this blog. Future subjects will include: the economics of theatre and development of new business models;  the role of social enterprise;  Laurence Sterne; the 18th Century “Afterpiece” and any other subjects that emerge along the way.