Arts: Theatre: I know thee and I know thee not, old man
CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT CHICHESTER FESTIVAL
Thursday 13 August 1998
Orson Welles's film adaptation of two of Shakespeare's Henry plays compresses them so as to throw even greater emphasis on the contention between Hal's two father figures - his blood father, the cold, controlling and oppressive King, and his surrogate father, the permissive, dissolute, witty Falstaff - for the love and soul of the young heir.
An actor who plays Hal in his youth is a good deal more likely to age into a Henry IV than into the fat knight, a process parallel to that in the play, where Falstaff is always fated to be just an essential enriching phase that Hal needs to pass through before accepting the humanly narrowing destiny of Kingship.
At Chichester, Falstaff is played by Orson Welles's biographer, Simon Callow, himself an outsize personality and fertile wit. The performance he gives here, though, is stronger on the fruity, booming bombast and the airy, charmingly self-convinced delivery of barefaced whoppers than it is on suggesting any deeper hinterland to the character.
As the title indicates, there's an elegiac thrust to the play which ends with the scene from Henry IV where the fat knight's death, babbling of green fields, is touchingly reported, just as Pistol, Nym and Bardolph are about to embark for the war in France. But even a piece specifically re-shaped as a celebration of Falstaff could afford to take a more candid look at his darker side than we get here.
The ugliness in his misdeeds is not allowed to complicate our appreciation of their comic outrageousness. We could be watching a scapegrace who had roughly the same moral complexity and capacity for reflection on his actions as Mr Toad.
And the nature of Falstaff's emotional bond with Hal is under-explored. When Robert Stephens played the character at Stratford as a more brooding, Rembrandtesque figure than usual, you kept seeing that Hal was the only thing that stood between Falstaff and a lonely, childless old age. This came out even in bantering moments.
Delivering these lines from Falstaff's famous eulogy on the virtues of drink, "If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and addict themselves to sack," Stephens voice broke on the first phrase, bringing firmly home the bleak fact that the soon-to-turn Prince Hal is the nearest person to a son he'll ever get.
Garland's fluently staged, but not very searching, production needs more subtleties of that order, particularly given the increased stress on this subject in Chimes.
Tam Williams, who boasts the looks and presence of someone who could make a packet fronting a Boyzone-type band, is a vivid, youthfully insecure Hal. For his headstrong rival, Hotspur, Tristan Gemmill has the right impatient, scornful charisma that makes such a meal of the character's speech impediment, it comes to seem like his determining feature.
There are attractive cameos in the play (especially from Sarah Badel as Mistress Quickly), but the production is too generalised.
Afterwards I overheard a Chichester matron greeting her friends. "Well," she said, groping for the right word. "That was rather, er, fun." And not much else, alas.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how Twitter reacted
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
- 5 Britain First picture: Photographer 'horrified' after first Afghan policewoman killed by Taliban used for 'ban the burka' campaign
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God