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The Hollow Crown is an intriguing text drawn from the original words of British monarchs, their spouses and assorted throne-watchers.

Historical pageantry in hiSTORYstage's The Hollow Crown 

The theatrical process recognizes that the innately gifted are few and far between. For the rest of us poor schlubs, extensive training and rehearsals acknowledge that, when beginning any new craft or new production, we generally start at a state of low—or sometimes zero—competency.

Unfortunately, I can't report that hiSTORYstage has progressed much further than this in its mounting of The Hollow Crown, an intriguing text drawn from the original words of British monarchs, their spouses and assorted throne-watchers that John Barton compiled for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961.

At its best, Barton's patchwork script reveals the very human faces of royalty, in brief but telling profiles of rulers from William I in 1066 to Queen Victoria in the mid-19th century. In these sometimes snarky, sometimes poignant excerpts, we listen as a mere king importunes an unwilling mistress, an 18th-century antecedent of Perez Hilton mocks a royal funeral, and a bewildered woman begs for her life from the Tower of London.

But the performers affiliated with the Raleigh group Historic Interpretations need a lot more dramatic and vocal training before presenting another work to the public. Without context or explanation, a quartet of nascent actors devoted most of their time on stage to exaggerated expressions of sardonic displeasure without believably building up to or varying such extremes. With all of the beard-rubbing and eyebrow-cocking going on, this group largely relied on physical crutches instead of characterizations to telegraph unshaded emotions. Meanwhile, the audible sighs and murmurs from an admiring on-stage bank of singers—whose watery a cappella vocals drifted in and out of pitch throughout the night—continually drew focus from the actors' declamations.

The sole exception to these fundamental difficulties was Heather Shore's stunning stage work, which radiated the defiance of an embattled Mary I, the pathos of a bewildered Anne Boleyn and the unalloyed delight and gratitude of a just-crowned Queen Victoria. Given their contrast against the rest of the evening, Shore seems to have stepped into this show from another production. I deeply hope that she rejoins it—and the rest of this group finds the training they need in order to adequately present song and drama to the public.

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