Five Minutes with John Galea, director of Superhal
Tell us about the concept behind Superhal, opening in March at NIDA Parade Theatre.
Hal, AKA King Henry V, is one of Shakespeare’s most popular characters. We wanted follow his story, usually told over three plays, and tell it in a single sitting, keeping the richness of Shakespeare’s language but finding a way to connect this material with audiences who might not otherwise come to see a Shakespeare play. I’m a sci-fi comic book nerd from way back, and the superhero universe seemed to me to be an obvious fit for the history plays – ‘What is honour?’ is a theme that comes up time and again in Hal’s story, and I think the idea of honour and heroism is a central superhero theme too.
Shakespeare is often considered high art, whereas superheroes thrive in Hollywood. Are superhero stories the Shakespeare of our age?
[Laughs] It’s an interesting question. Even though Marvel’s MCU has reached storytelling heights not seen before in the superhero genre, I think the writing still has a ways to go before it’s on a par with Shakespeare. I would consider Alan Moore’s comics (V For Vendetta, Watchmen, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen) to be on that literature/genius level, although it’s always hard to compare any literature to Shakespeare for me. But in terms of relevance and popular appeal, and the mix of nobility and comedy, I think that superheroes certainly are living in the same cultural space as Elizabethan theatre did 400 years ago.
Are there any clever references in the play for Marvel and DC devotees?
Well, you may see a number of characters who share similarities with Marvel/DC icons – however, this is its own story, not a satire or derivative work, so they will be familiar but not immediately recognisable. You may see references where you don’t expect them; Falstaff is a good example of this. For Alan Moore fans there is a deliberate Watchmen reference in Act Two.
Who features in the cast?
Richard Hilliar is an acclaimed Sydney actor and director, he’ll be playing Hal. David Attrill, a veteran of the Sydney stage, plays his father Henry IV. John Michael Burdon, another Sydney stage regular both as an actor and director, will play the mighty Falstaff. And we have a fantastic supporting cast including Emily Weare, Seamus Quinn, Amanda Maple-Brown, Emily Elise, Kieran Foster, Pascal Rueger, Beth McMullen, Catherine Davies, Jasper Garner-Gore, Meghann Martini, Ciaran O’Riordan and Noemie Joumont.
Should audiences expect to laugh, cry, cower in fear, or something else entirely?
All of the above, but above all to wonder and have their spirit soar as they are taken to an alternative reality to question the meaning of ‘honour’.