Women and Shakespeare

S4: E2: Hannah Khalil on adapting *Henry VIII* for Shakespeare's Globe

June 23, 2023 Season 4 Episode 2
S4: E2: Hannah Khalil on adapting *Henry VIII* for Shakespeare's Globe
Women and Shakespeare
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Women and Shakespeare
S4: E2: Hannah Khalil on adapting *Henry VIII* for Shakespeare's Globe
Jun 23, 2023 Season 4 Episode 2

In this episode, Playwright Hannah Khalil talks about her adaptation of Henry VIII at Shakespeare's Globe.

Check out the first anthology of her plays: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/hannah-khalil-plays-of-arabic-heritage-9781350242197/

Check out her website: https://hannahkhalil.com/

For a complete episode transcript, click http://www.womenandshakespeare.com

Interviewer: Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Hannah Khalil
Producers: Trixie Rodriguez & Sydney Partin
Research Consultant & Transcript: Benjamin Poore
Artwork: Wenqi Wan

Suggested Citation:  Khalil, Hannah in conversation with Panjwani, Varsha (2023). Hannah Khalil on adapting Henry VIII for Shakespeare's Globe . Women & Shakespeare [Podcast], Series 4, Ep. 2. http://womenandshakespeare.com/

Twitter: @earlymoderndoc
Insta: earlymoderndoc
Email: earlymoderndoc@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Playwright Hannah Khalil talks about her adaptation of Henry VIII at Shakespeare's Globe.

Check out the first anthology of her plays: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/hannah-khalil-plays-of-arabic-heritage-9781350242197/

Check out her website: https://hannahkhalil.com/

For a complete episode transcript, click http://www.womenandshakespeare.com

Interviewer: Varsha Panjwani
Guest: Hannah Khalil
Producers: Trixie Rodriguez & Sydney Partin
Research Consultant & Transcript: Benjamin Poore
Artwork: Wenqi Wan

Suggested Citation:  Khalil, Hannah in conversation with Panjwani, Varsha (2023). Hannah Khalil on adapting Henry VIII for Shakespeare's Globe . Women & Shakespeare [Podcast], Series 4, Ep. 2. http://womenandshakespeare.com/

Twitter: @earlymoderndoc
Insta: earlymoderndoc
Email: earlymoderndoc@gmail.com

Varsha: Hello, dear listeners! Welcome to Women & Shakespeare. I am your host, Dr Varsha Panjwani. As a woman who lives on her own, I am feeling the rising cost of living keenly. I know that there are many like me in far worse situations. In this climate, it is absolutely frustrating that the fate of women like me is in the hands of men such as landlords who want to exploit me, or men who are spending the tax money that I pay on parties, ceremonial celebrations, and heating private pools. 

These are some of the concerns at the heart of Henry VIII or All is True – a play written jointly by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. This episode’s guest, playwright Hannah Khalil adapted the play and emphasized how women’s fates are buffeted by the whims of men with money and power. 

Hannah is a Palestinian-Irish dramatist. She has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company; Soho Playhouse; The Kiln; and the Arcola as well as Mosaic Theatre in New York. She was the writer-in-residence at the Globe in 2022. In December of that year, her play Hakawatis - a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights Nights played at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (Globe’s indoor playhouse), while her adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's ‘The Fir Tree’ returned to the main stage at the Globe, making Hannah the first writer other than Shakespeare to have had her work on in both spaces at the Globe simultaneously. 

Before this feat, her adaptation of Henry VIII was being staged at Shakespeare’s Globe. My students and I saw this production and were struck by its urgency. We felt as if we were taking part in the events of the play. We invited Hannah to our classroom where we recorded this episode. 

Varsha: [00:00:00] Hannah, it's so amazing to have you here because my students, we went and saw Henry VIII at The Globe very recently. So we're delighted to have you here. Welcome to ‘Women & Shakespeare’ Podcast.

Hannah: Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Varsha: So I'll begin with a question, which I ask everyone. When did you first encounter Shakespeare, and what was the nature of that encounter?

Hannah: It's a really good question, and I don't think I've been asked it before actually. I think it must have been at school in this country.

Hannah: So I grew up in the Middle East until I was 10, 11, and then I came over here to school and I don't remember doing any Shakespeare in Dubai where I grew up. But when I came here, I think pretty swiftly I started studying Shakespeare. I think the first one would've been Romeo and Juliet. So yeah, in a school academic setting, [00:01:00] absolutely not in a ‘get up and do it’ kind of setting in a sort of ‘sit down and study that language’, which felt very opaque to me at that time.

Hannah: But then I had really good experiences. Because I was interested in drama, the drama teacher was bringing the 17, 18 year olds to see a production of King Lear that Talawa Theatre were doing. And that's a London based company that is Black British.

Hannah: And they were doing a production of King Lear. And he knew that I was into drama and that I was interested. He said, ‘do you want to come?’ And I was terrified of going with these big students, but I always said, ‘yes, I'll go’. I was also terrified cuz I didn't know King Lear, and I thought, ‘will I understand any of it?’

Hannah: And this production was at the Cochrane Theatre, which is not far from here actually. Yeah. And I really fell in love with it. I thought it was amazing and suddenly, the text made sense in people's mouths rather than on the page. Shakespeare is made to be performed, I think. 

Hannah: So, yeah, so that was a really formative Shakespeare experience for me. And King Lear [00:02:00] became like a real a sort of touchstone for me. I kept studying it. I did it, you know, I did it at school, then I did it at university. It keeps coming back and I mean, it's obviously a really beautiful play and, as a nice segue, there are some lines from Lear in Henry VIII, my version. 

Varsha: Right now, I am trying not to be extremely envious of you because I wish I had seen that production. Everyone keeps talking about it and I'm sure it was fantastic, but 

Hannah: It was very special.

Varsha: I wasn't in this country then. But let us talk about Henry VIII.

Varsha: So it is a play written jointly by Shakespeare and his contemporary John Fletcher. And you have rewritten this play for a production at Shakespeare's Globe. So firstly, my student, Isabelle Landolfi, wanted to know why Henry VIII of all the plays? And then secondly, my student Bianca Arce, she wondered what was it like to be a woman collaborating with the work of two men from a [00:03:00] different century?

Hannah: So why Henry VIII? That wouldn't have been my obvious choice. It was the brainchild of Michelle Terry, who is the artistic director of the Globe. So she had this great idea that in the year – that was a very significant year with the Platinum Jubilee for the Queen – that to do Shakespeare's play that has so much pageantry and pomp in it would be a really great idea. But it's considered to be a problem play, his last, obviously with Fletcher, as you say.

Hannah: And so to try and find a way to present it that makes it more manageable and speak to now more. So I was asked to centre the female characters and I was very nervous about doing that. So to answer the next question, how did I feel about collaborating with Fletcher and Shakespeare?

Hannah: Well, terrified. I was like, what are people gonna say? You know, like ‘Hannah Khalil? Work on – no, no, we can't have that’. But what was wonderful is that, I guess because it's a play that no one knows, and [00:04:00] because I didn't intervene with any original Khalil text, I was magpie-ing from the other plays. I think, I think people didn't mind so much cuz they weren't saying, ‘oh, I missed this bit’, because no one knows that play.’

Hannah: So it was great. Or, they were saying, ‘oh, this bit's a bit familiar’, or, ‘maybe I know Henry VIII better than I thought I did’. But actually it's from Taming of the Shrew or somewhere else, and they didn't quite realize. So actually when I got over my initial fear, it was absolutely joyous.

Hannah: I really enjoyed it and realized I know many more Shakespeares than I thought I did. 

Varsha: Did you think that they had written women characters beautifully or did you find that as a woman you were very much amplifying, as was your brief?

Hannah: So when I read the play, I was thinking, ‘how difficult is this going to be?’

Hannah: And if it feels like it's a real struggle to center the women, then maybe we shouldn't be doing that. But immediately I went, ‘oh no, hold on. He's already done it’. You know, Shakespeare, I think particularly cuz I feel like [00:05:00] I know the bits that Shakespeare wrote and the bits that Fletcher wrote, and I'm pretty convinced that Shakespeare wrote Catherine of Aragon.

Hannah: And for my money, best female character in Shakespeare, it’s such a pity that play isn’t done more because I, I had to do nothing to those speeches. I did insert a couple of little bits into them that was just for my own pleasure, but it didn't need anything. Those speeches are amazing, and – I'm sure you will have seen this when you went – the audience really fall in love with Catherine and they're on her side.

Hannah: They're literally cheering for her in the tribunal scene and, and that's all Shakespeare. So that's already there. And what's also really interesting, I think in the original. I don’t know if you have observed this, but in modern retellings of that Tudor story where Catherine of Aragon is put aside for Anne Boleyn – and we've got plenty of those,

Hannah: You know that that TV series, The Tudors, and Wolf Hall, and you name it, there's loads and loads. It's a really ripe bit of history that people love to [00:06:00] revisit. 

Varsha: Yeah. 

Hannah: Anne is normally portrayed as a gold digger. As a woman who has her eye on the prize. She wants that crown and so, I was really interested to read in the original she's not like that at all.

Hannah: In fact, even though she doesn't have a huge amount to say in the original, there is much less judgment on Anne than we get in modern retellings. In fact, it feels like Anne is a woman who is sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time, depending on your perception. But she doesn't have a choice.

Hannah: If you are in the court and the king's eye falls on you, well, tough. Basically. You gotta do what you gotta do. And, and so that I found quite interesting and dare I say feminist, and so I thought, okay, I, I feel like I can do something with that. But I did want to give her more to say. She needed more voice, more of a [00:07:00] psychological journey.

Hannah: So yes, I, I went to Taming of the Shrew and looked at Katherine and I also looked at Pericles, Marina. She has some lines from Marina. And Twelfth Night as well, at Viola. 

Varsha: Like you, I think it's a shame that we don't study Henry VIII very often, but one of the problems with that has been that there haven't been amazing productions that speak to our students.

Varsha: So hopefully this will change that. And this is a self-interested question, because it's interesting that you mentioned that you felt that Shakespeare wrote those lines. I always feel that Fletcher writes better women characters. However, in the blog post – on Shakespeare's Globe website right now – you mentioned that you mined the treasure trove of 37 plays and 154 sonnets by Shakespeare to put in snippets of the text in the mouth of these characters.

Varsha: Did you do similarly from [00:08:00] Fletcher's plays? Is there any more Fletcher in there and is there any Hannah Khalil in there? 

Hannah: There is no Fletcher in there. And sorry Fletcher, wherever you are. I felt like because I'm at Shakespeare's Globe and because really the reason people are coming to see that play is because of two names, Henry and Shakespeare, that actually it's Shakespeare.

Hannah: And because Shakespeare's work is so rich and there's so much to it, that that felt like those were the right places to be looking. I'm afraid I felt like a lot of the stuff I cut, and I did cut an awful lot, was probably Fletcher's. Sorry again, Fletcher. But you could give this play to a different writer and tell them to centre the story, the political story, the Wolsey story, which is also very beautifully written.

Hannah: And you could have a very different version of the play that might be really interesting. But no, there's no additional Fletcher and there's no Khalil. And I'm saying that carefully because when I took this job and told my mum [00:09:00] and she was astonished and said, ‘but what are you gonna do?

Hannah: Are you gonna write in iambic pentameter? You're gonna write in verse?’ And I was like, ‘no, mum. I don't do fakespeare’. But I have taken the odd liberty. In terms of taking a little bit of a line and maybe finishing the odd thing with one or two words. Very, I mean, that was a last resort because everything is – 

Hannah: everything you need is in those plays and sonnets. So I did my best to just stick with his words. 

Varsha: Mm-hmm. And it's interesting what you say that it almost made the play seem more familiar because people knew these lines as well. 

Hannah: I should also caveat and say there is one other place that I took text from. From the mouths of the real women.

Hannah: So Catherine of Aragon’s final letter that she actually wrote is in the play. And Mary Tudor, Catherine's daughter. I have inserted words that she spoke when [00:10:00] she was queen. 

Varsha: Right.

Hannah: But put it into the teenage Mary's mouth. And where else?

Hannah: Oh, and Elizabeth I. So – spoiler, for anyone who hasn't read my version of the play – it ends with Elizabeth I at her christening being also an adult and giving a speech that she did actually give to Parliament. 

Varsha: Yeah, I thought I heard that one. So as we've been talking about it, the play covers part of Henry VIII’s reign in which he divorces Catherine of Aragon, marries Anne Boleyn, and fathers the future

Varsha: Queen Elizabeth I. One of the characters that was actually notably absent from the play when it was first written was Mary Tuor, and that is a really significant omission, right? Because clearly she was there, but in the play she isn't at all. So my students Sydney Partin and also Akshita Boddapu, were curious why you decided to create a role for Mary in your [00:11:00] script.

Hannah: So it is really odd that in a play that is all about legacy – everything he does, Henry claims that he's doing because he needs an heir – he already has an heir. He has Mary, and she's mentioned only once, I think, in the original. So I was like, well, we gotta do something about that. You know, we need Mary.

Hannah: And also as a playwright, when I'm asked to adapt something or to work on something, I have to think about, ‘am I the right person for this, and why?’. And so approaching this, there were different things that I was thinking about, about Catherine being an outsider and what that's like to come to England as an outsider.

Hannah: I know what that is. But also about divorce. And my parents got divorced when I was a teenager, and it was really painful. And so the idea that Mary was having to watch her parents divorce publicly and it be so painful, I thought, well, that's so dramatic. You know, we can't leave that out of the play.

Hannah: We have to [00:12:00] have Mary as a character. So to have her as this teenage character who watches the action and then comments on it and has words from Lear. Words that she spoke herself later in life about her place, and her right. Just felt really felt really important and dramatic. 

Varsha: Mm-hmm. And you just mentioned your experience as knowing what an outsider is and that feeds into both Mary and Catherine of Aragon, so did you mine your embodied experience of being from an Arabic heritage while writing these characters?

Hannah: I think I always mine, we all mine our heritage every day as we navigate the world, but I don't think I consciously did it, but I think, if you are someone who has not lived in England and doesn't identify as English, although I know I sound very English.

Hannah: I worked very hard to assimilate when I first came to this country in order to be able to fit in, and that's [00:13:00] exactly what Catherine did. Catherine became more loved than Henry, and that's how good she was. That's how fantastic women, global majority women are at code switching and putting themselves in rooms and making sure that they are able to fit because that's what we've been forced to do.

Varsha: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: And – to survive. And that's exactly what Catherine does. I mean, in a way that might have been part of the problem, like the people of England loved her more than they loved Henry. And you know, in a way, Anne is that too, because she had spent so much time at the French court and the way that she's described, the term, they always talk about her skin colour as not being white. 

Varsha: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: So I think she probably had dark features, dark hair, and was considered very other. And so both of those women and how they were treated in court, you can't get away. I don't, just don't think you can get away from the fact that they would've been seen as other.

Hannah: And not just cuz they were women, but also because of, you know, where [00:14:00] they had come from. 

Varsha: I hear you, completely. My student Sarah Eckert, she was struck by the use of songs in your play, especially Mary's opening number, Catherine's vision. So why did you decide to use songs? Because it made me think of other Shakespeare heroines like Desdemona or Ophelia who sing when they really want to articulate.

Hannah: So, the version of the play that you saw, the songs, the lyrics and the music were written by Maimuna Memon, who is a brilliant lyricist and composer, so not by me. In the script itself, I placed sonnets from Shakespeare, and also songs from other plays, and the reason that I did that is twofold.

Hannah: I mean, first of all, when you're writing a play, particularly if it's very dense with language, you want to create moments to take an audience somewhere else a little bit, to change the [00:15:00] tone, to break up words. And particularly in that space at the Globe, you need a bit of visual and sonic kind of difference.

Hannah: So I had put these sonnets in and also, the director had said to me, ‘we want a few songs, Hannah. We want a few songs’. So I was like, ‘yeah, fair, good, okay, we can do that’. And then, then she had the great idea to bring Maimuna in who took those sonnets and took lines from them and then turned them into pieces of her own.

Hannah: But it's very much, when you are thinking about adapting a play, you always have to, or writing a play, you have to think about, dare I say, you have to kind of think about it as a piece of music. You have sections where even when I'm looking at text, if I'm just looking at a play, you are looking to see, okay.

Hannah: What I want to see is I want to see monologue and I want to see short pieces of text and then difference, variation, in order to create interest to spark an audience. Because if it's too much the same, it becomes [00:16:00] monotonous. 

Varsha: Mm, we certainly enjoyed the songs, didn't we? And obviously the amazing one where the golden phallus appears as part of a party.

Varsha: You must have seen that. What was your reaction when you first saw that happening? 

Hannah: Well, I mean, I was quite surprised cuz I didn't write it in the script. Yes. But I totally understand the logic of it. Yeah, I mean, I thought, well, people will love or hate it, but, you know, but as a, as a way of kind of pointing out that, you know, gold and men are at the centre of this patriarchal society, I thought, well, if the audience missed that from a giant gold penis, then well, what else can we do? 

Varsha: No, we definitely got that, that he was a dick, but he had all the power and money.

Hannah: Exactly.

Varsha: But it was fun to see. 

Varsha: I also want to ask you about stage directions because my student [00:17:00] Peyton Harmon she was fascinated by the stage direction in Shakespeare, in Fletcher's play as well. And in your script, you're clearly having fun with these. So could you tell us your favourite ones and why you put them in?

Hannah: Well I mean, it's special this play because it has the most stage directions that he's written in any play, and all the pomp and circumstance and the detail. And I did cut some of them, but then I add my own, so it's a very special play for the Globe because I'm sure you all know this already, but

Hannah: It's the play that burnt down the original Globe. 

Varsha: Yeah.

Hannah: They set off a cannon in a performance of Henry VIII and it lit the thatch and the Globe burnt to the ground. So there was in an earlier draft, a stage direction at the end that says ‘cannon goes off, there's some smoke we smell burning, we look up’. 

Varsha: I've read that and it was hilarious. 

Hannah: But it, but it didn't make it to production because of various things. But I still think, that would be quite a nice little nod to the history of that play. Yeah. 

Varsha: [00:18:00] Yeah, it's a shame that it isn't in it.

Hannah: I love stage directions and I constantly encourage other playwrights to really get involved with them because I don't think plays should just be about the words. I think they should be about action.

Hannah: And so some of the moments, I think a lot of the Mary stuff, you know. 

Varsha: Yeah, that was great.

Hannah: These are the fun things that for me, because that's the stuff that I have really truly imagined and that has nothing to do with my collaborators. 

Varsha: I thought it was great that he was centring the women not only in terms of dialogue, but staging as well. We had them providing commentary, watching from behind pillars, standing on thrones, things like that. So I really enjoyed that too.  

Varsha: And you have included two women characters of a lower class in your script who provide commentary on the events of the play. And they were sitting in the yard.

Varsha: Talking to the groundlings, the standing audience at the Globe, and they felt very much one [00:19:00] of us. So could you tell us a bit more about how and why these were important for you?

Hannah: So, in the original, there are two gentlemen who comment on the action. And I always thought about them like the two characters from the Muppets.

Hannah: I don't, you are probably too young to remember, but there are two characters in the Muppets who would just comment on the action. And I thought they were rather fun. But in order to try and make it feel a little bit more relevant and less about sort of these two gentlemen reminding the audience what's happening in case they've fallen asleep or gone to the loo I thought, well, well first of all, let's make it women obviously.

Hannah: And let's make it a little bit more political so they have extra text that's taken from some of the other Henry plays that's about the state of the world and about the fact that they're cold and they can't pay for their bills. And you know, we are in a moment in the world where …

Varsha: We are.

Hannah: Yeah. Where, things are tricky for people and so to have two characters in the play who are [00:20:00] watching all of this pomp and circumstance, but themselves are cold and hungry, felt kind of poignant and important. 

Varsha: Absolutely. And that they had such smart things to say, but people were not listening to them.

Varsha: I mean, the audience was listening to them, we loved them. On the day we saw it, they said England is such a swaying nation. And the day we saw it, they were still deciding who the prime minister of the country was gonna be. So, everyone in the audience was very much with them. And, clapping along and …

Hannah: We were horribly relevant, weren't we?

Varsha: Yeah, totally. And my next question is actually about that. So in your previous play, A Museum in Baghdad, you are dealing with multiple historical timelines, just as in this one. So there's the timeline in which the events that are described in the play are taking [00:21:00] place, so Henry VIII's reign, and then there's the time in which the play was performed, which is when Elizabeth I is dead and the play is being nostalgic about her reign.

Varsha: But then there is the present timeline, so we are looking back at both these timelines, but we are also looking at these timelines through the lens of Brexit, shaky government, and then in the run, Queen Elizabeth II's death. So how do you negotiate between these timelines? And is there one you prioritize over the others?

Hannah: So I'd say the difference between this play and A Museum in Baghdad is, Museum in Baghdad, those different timelines are written into the play. So we have 1926, we have 2006, and then we have a sort of future, an indefinite future. Whereas the timelines that you are talking about in relation to Henry are more about how we watch it and how knowingly the actors play [00:22:00] that.

Hannah: I think, for the audience to understand the play, we need to make sure that we are really invested in what's happening between Henry and Catherine and Anne. And in terms of the stuff that's happening now, it's the Globe.

Hannah: You can't get away from it because that's the nature of that theatre. And the direct conversation between people and actors, that makes for me theatre truly exciting and revolutionary and a crucible where change can happen because those plays genuinely are in conversation with now and the audience can vocally make those comments and leaps imaginatively.

Hannah: So I think, I think it's impossible if the actors try to pretend that none of that stuff was happening. And of course I am very knowingly putting in those references I've said for the two women. But people make those leaps and so that's really interesting and exciting actually, I think, and important, otherwise, why do the plays? [00:23:00] 

Varsha: Well, the play has a subtitle, which I think is quite cheeky, called All is True.

Varsha: What did you think about this? And also you've given it another subtitle, Did My Heart Love Till Now? Could you unpack this for us, please?

Hannah: Of course. So actually the play wasn't originally called Henry VIII. It was originally called All Is True. You know, and that feels really modern, doesn't it?

Hannah: Sort of like what is truth and who's telling the truth? It was only later it was called Henry VIII. And so I did an interview about the play earlier this year, and I said in the interview, I don't think Henry is the main character.

Hannah: So, of course, the headline of this interview was, Hannah doesn't think Henry VIII is the main character in Henry VIII. And then I got a lot of sort of smirky sort of comments like ‘oh, love, the clue’s in the title’. But of course the title isn't Henry VIII, it’s All Is True

Varsha: Yeah.

Hannah: And I think, I mean, I think there's a lot of carefulness in Shakespeare and Fletcher's writing because it was such recent history. It was only [00:24:00] a hundred years hence. So they're being very careful about how they portray all these different people. And I think people ask me often why the play’s problematic. And my three reasons. One is I think the amount of pomp and circumstances very expensive and difficult to do.

Hannah: I think also there's a big problem with Act V, which I cut most of. There's a second courtroom scene with a character who doesn't really appear until Act V and is very dry. And I discovered in my research that it's actually verbatim, which is why it's so dry. So I was like, ‘oh, well I feel totally vindicated in cutting all of that’.

Hannah: So I did. But the other thing that, I think, one of the brilliant actors in the play observed is that there's an absence of blame in the play. There's no clear baddie, you know, Wolsey, you could say Wolsey. Okay. He's, he's the antagonist, but he turns on a sixpence at the end, as you saw, and suddenly he's, you know, he's this [00:25:00] really sort of compassionate character who you kind of go, oh God, you really feel sorry for him.

Hannah: And I think that's the thing that people find quite tricky is this absence of blame. And I think that's basically because of, of how close the history is.

Hannah: So I think that's what All Is True is about. Henry VIII obviously then was added later because it's like, well that's a great selling point. Why wouldn't you put Henry VIII in the title? And for me, my title, Did My Heart Love Till Now, that's a line from Romeo and Juliet, but I have put it in Anne Boleyn’s mouth and Anne Boleyn says it when she looks at baby Elizabeth.

Hannah: And so the idea being that the truest kind of love is not this blustering man's love for Anne, who he wants to possess and who he wants to give him the male heir he so desperately needs. The truest form of love is the love from a mother to a daughter or a child. And that love is actually what it's all about.

Hannah: In the end [00:26:00] and legacy, Anne's legacy. Anne gets as far as she can get. I mean, she does amazingly, she ends up as queen, but then we know what happens next, what isn't included in the play, that she ends up being executed. But Elizabeth does what no one could imagine. You know, she becomes queen and she reigns for the longest period that I think anyone had reigned at that point.

Hannah: And the first woman to really hold the reins of power. So yeah, so that's what that's about. 

Varsha: And that makes sense in terms of Mary and Catherine as well, doesn't it? Because the last letter Catherine writes is about –  

Hannah: Look after my daughter, exactly.

Hannah: So this, this idea that, that a mother's love for her children that's love. Not this nonsense that Henry is peddling. 

Varsha: Definitely not. So Hannah, could you tell us a little bit more about the other things you are doing at the Globe.

Hannah: Absolutely. So I have two shows. One is [00:27:00] called Hakawatis, which means ‘the storytellers’ in Arabic. And it is my re-imagining of One Thousand and One Nights. So I have always been baffled by the fact that in the UK, in the west generally, One Thousand and One Nights is made as a production normally for children when the stories are absolutely, I mean, a lot of them are X-rated and – 

Varsha: Very disturbing –  

Hannah: Exactly. And the framing device which is about Scheherazade. So a king has caught his wife in flagrante with a servant. And in his rage, he kills them both. And then, vows to take revenge on all womankind. So every day he will wed, bed and behead another woman.

Hannah: And this continues, this bloody revenge – 

Varsha: Worse than Henry VIII – 

Hannah: Worse than Henry VIII, exactly, more than six. And so he then, so Scheherazade [00:28:00] becomes the hero of the piece. She steps up and says, no, I'm going to go next, but he won't kill me because I will tell him such amazing stories that wrap into each other that he'll want to hear the end.

Hannah: So this is the framing device of One Thousand and One Nights. And I thought, well, what if Scheherazade isn't the brilliant storyteller of fable? What if she's good, but not as good as she thinks? Well, all the other women will want her to succeed because if she fails, they're next. So the women get together and start making stories for Scheherazade, Scheherazade’s writer's room effectively.

Hannah: And I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if I could get some other Arab women writers to write new stories that we could put inside? So therefore, you know, the way it's been made it sort of mirrors the, the content of the play and 

Varsha: Oh wow. 

Hannah: I had permission to do so. So we've got some brilliant women writing hilarious, naughty, cheeky stories. 

Hannah: And then in the main space at the Globe, my adaptation of The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen and the brief for that was to [00:29:00] reimagine that story with a sort of eco heart. And so that's what I've done. And we have a designer called Sam Wild, we call him the Card Bard because he can literally make anything out of cardboard.

Hannah: And all the puppets, which are beautiful, are made of Amazon boxes. So it's a carbon neutral show. Everything is recycled or reused and it's really gorgeous. And the idea being that, Christmas doesn't have to be super expensive. You can get five pounds tickets for the Globe.

Hannah: He's made all these gorgeous how-to videos. The yard will be full of Christmas trees and people are encouraged to make a decoration. And there's a moment in the play where everyone decorates the trees and you've brought your own decoration you made, and you put it on the tree.

Hannah: It's a really beautiful, heartwarming thing. And it's, yeah, Christmas at the Globe is pretty magic, so I'm gonna make the most of it. I'm very, I feel very lucky to be there.

Varsha: So I'm very curious. You've done many adaptations and you've also written plays from scratch. [00:30:00] Is there a difference or is every new adaptation effectively a new play?

Hannah: There is a difference. Adaptations are exciting because you have an existing framework of some kind, and I do often find that rules and regulations make for great creativity. 

Varsha: Yeah. 

Hannah: But it's always tricky because you want to honour the original, but you want to put your own heart and soul into it and your own voice into it.

Hannah: And I turn things down because I don't think I'm the right person or I don't have a vision for how that might work. So, yeah. But, but they're both joyous to do. I think the trick is to get to do both so that you don't feel like you are, just doing all the adaptations. I mean, it's nice to do all original things, but there's something really exciting about reinterpreting someone else's work and hoping that you make [00:31:00] it speak to an audience now in a way that it might not.

Varsha: Yeah. And I'm glad you said that because these are such loaded things, right? That original seems like it's the best thing to aspire to. And adaptation, not so much. But I'm glad you said that because I often find that adapters are so creative –  

Hannah: Yeah. 

Varsha: In what they're doing. So it's a very different type of skill to be in conversation with whoever's written the plays. 

Hannah: Definitely. And what I would hope, for me certainly, is that if I'm adapting something, that I have fallen in love with it and want other people to fall in love with it too. And so trying to bring it to life in a slightly fresh way, that's really very exciting and rewarding. 

Varsha: Great. Hannah, it was really, really eye-opening and fun. Thank you very much. 

Hannah: My pleasure. 

That was the wonderful Hannah Khalil talking about Henry VIII, adaptation, songs and stage directions, and women and power. 

Next month, you will listen from our guest, Ella Hawkins, who will be talking about costume and biscuits! Curious? Well, remember to tune in to Women & Shakespeare, streaming at Apple Podcast and Spotify. If you want to listen to the podcast with a full transcript, head over to the website, www.womenandshakespeare.com. For now, dear listeners, adieu, adieu, adieu and keep smashing the patriarchy!