Arts: Theatre: I know thee and I know thee not, old man

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT CHICHESTER FESTIVAL

KEITH BAXTER played Hal in both the original stage version and the 1965 movie of Chimes at Midnight. In Patrick Garland's revival at Chichester, he impressively graduates from the role of the wanton, calculating Prince to that of Hal's careworn, sickly father, Henry IV. That route of promotion is itself perhaps eloquent about the themes of the piece.

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.

Paul Taylor

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn