Friday, 16 July 2010

Henry IV.

Had a fantastic day of escapism at The Globe watching both parts of Henry IV. They're wonderful plays, beautifully constructed and the young ensemble company did them full justice in a superb riot of fun and frolic keeping us on our toes for the full six hours.

Roger Allam plays Falstaff sharp, completely aware from very early on of his own boasts and contradictions. Full of guile, he rolls with Prince Hal and Poins as an object of knowing self-deprecation. His passions are calculated strengths rather than uncontrollable weaknesses and his love of life permeates every decision, line, glance and burp. This is a philosophical Falstaff - a man who could have been something else, an earl or duke or one of the many dull, but titled gentry hanging like wall paper about the Plantagenet court - instead he chose pleasure, affection and fond love, all the while knowing poverty, disappointment and ridicule to be the consequence. Terrifying it maybe but better to drink yourself to death in good young company than pursue peerage, pomp, nobility and status for its own end.

Whilst this sage approach perhaps weakens the emotional impact of Falstaff's ultimate rejection - making it inevitable, even to him himself - it does win huge amounts of sympathy early on. Life is a beautiful illusion and not to be watered down by the petty or the mean. A cup of sack, a song and warm friends are all that is required. Anything else distorts the reverie.

Jamie Parker is a fantastic Hal - a touch of Cameron in the Bullingdon club - mixed with a genuine warmth at occasionally being the butt of the joke. A wide eyed Prince, revelling as much in the packed Globe audience as in the companionship of the Boar's Head. Despite the japes, this is a self-confident Hal, at heart fully aware of his moral responsibility. We'd fight for him, because we'd drink with him. We'd drink with him because he'd fight with us. His coming of age, is simply an ordering of his behaviour rather than an epiphany and, because his own sense of remorse dies in the instance he inherits the throne, his cruel actions at the end of the play leave him untouched. Sentiment and memory are not for him, making the rejection seem a huge relief rather than a burden to bear.

How wonderful to fall out of the theatre into a balmy Southwark night, full up after a day at the playhouse, see the lights of London glint on the dirty ebbing Thames and watch the Friday night revellers drink, dance, flirt and fight. It's all is as it ever was.

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