Log in

No account? Create an account
16 August 2011 @ 07:35 pm
Jamie Parker theater post  
So I meant to post the first of these ages ago, back when I posted my Much Ado "review," but clearly I didn't. But if I'm posting about 1 Henry IV, then I ought to post about the other thing I saw Jamie Parker in this summer, so...

(Both of these came out as character meta, as opposed to actual intelligent engagement with the details of a production. But oh well.)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Theatre Royal Haymarket
starring Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker
18 June 2011

Because I don’t know R & G the way that I do Much Ado, I suspect I’ll have much less to say about it. When I know a play well, I have, if not expectations, then…anticipations: looking forward to the infinite variety of ways a familiar scene might be played (even if it ultimately isn’t). And I have a sense of possible trajectory much earlier, which is another form of looking forward. But that isn’t to say that I enjoyed the play any less, because I certainly didn’t – even if at the moment, all I can think to say is: oh, my boys. My beautiful boys. Getting to watch them play off of each other was a bit like magic. And it was a bit familiar, and yet not at all so: the feeling that they had a special rapport with each other was the familiar bit, but their characters… I’d mentally cast Sam as Rosencrantz and Jamie as Guildenstern within, roughly, half an hour of learning that they’d been cast in the play, so obviously something about what I know of them came into play and made those the obvious choices. And yet… A reviewer referred to Sam’s Rosencrantz as highly strung, and Jamie’s Guildenstern as dogged – and I can sort of see why those adjectives were used, and maybe they were those things on the particular night the reviewer saw the show, but the words seem a bit limiting? A bit more…expected than the two of them actually were? Rosencrantz didn’t seem particularly highly strung to me (and certainly not more so than Guildenstern; they both have their moments); the takeaway moment for me was not one of being highly strung, but one of brilliant, acerbic sarcasm, which Sam played so well: the scene after their offstage encounter with Hamlet, the first scene in which the tables turn, and Ros comes into his own a bit more (“When’s he going to start delving? I asked myself”). But he’s also the more vulnerable of the two; he seems genuinely hurt when Hamlet calls him a sponge, and of course he’s appalled at first by what’s asked of them in the letter.

Guildenstern, by contrast…I think of Jamie Parker as having a line in broad sunniness (due to Scripps, of course, balanced and sane and wry; but also Oliver in the Globe’s AYLI, post-transformation – skipping about the stage as though he has to express his newfound love with his whole body), but also a line in passionate morality (that’s all Scripps). There was a moment in this play where Guil uses the word “proportion,” and my mouth quirked, I couldn’t help it – because Scripps is horrified by that word and the way it can paper over atrocity, and here’s Guil using it to do just that, to put murder on a scale and push it away. And that’s the difference; Guil smiles all the time in this production, but there’s a funny glint in that smile – not Scripps’ humane detachment, but a sort of condescending amusement. Where Ros gets swept up in fictions, biting his nails in anticipation of what might happen, Guil sits back, aloof (though it’s too easy to say that he’s logical; he speaks the language of logic, but he’s doing something else with it – I’m not entirely sure what).

But that’s not to say that Sam plays Rosencrantz as wholly naïve; he’s also deeply aggrieved in a way that Guil isn’t. Guil wants answers, but Ros wants control. And so he finally picks up his death with both hands, or walks away into it at any rate, because he’s had enough and doesn’t want to play anymore – while Guil is still looking for answers, alone on the stage. I loved the way Sam would stalk to the edge of the stage and put the darkness on notice – trying to wrest back a little bit of choice. He’s so personally upset at what happens to them, where Guil sees the puzzle.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least register my love for the way they moved across the stage – the questions game, for example, where their timing off one another was brilliant, Sam going all steely and determined to Jamie’s exuberant triumph. It occurred to me tonight that this play is such a test, or a marathon, for the actors playing Ros and Guil just the way that Hamlet is for the actor playing Hamlet. And they never flagged or lost focus; they danced through it.

Also worth noting: Guil is finally just broken by the Player King’s false death – it means that nothing is real anymore – and watching Jamie’s face as he expressed that without a word was just brilliant.

Another thing I loved was the sheer loopiness with which Sam lapsed into an “impersonation” of the King of England; he’s supposedly playing royalty, but really he’s just playing any garden-variety fussbudget – because that’s really the scope of his worldview, when he’s not out of place in the Hamlet scenes; it doesn’t really include kings and queens, so no wonder he can’t imagine them, any more than he can believe in England. (And of course it’s only in playing that the two of them can open the letter as a matter of course; when they’re trying to be rational, the desire to read the thing that would explain everything slips away into hysteria – oh, Sam’s frantic panic at thinking he’d lost the letter: a thing of beauty – but as a part of a game it just makes sense.)

I also loved how deeply irritated Ros was by Hamlet’s soliloquies. One of the fun things about this play is how it reflects upon conventions, making the familiar strange by forcing us to see it from another’s eyes, and Samuel Barnett’s Rosencrantz was utterly disgusted by Hamlet’s “talking to himself.” “Do you think conversation will help?” Guildenstern snaps at one point – and maybe it won’t, but it’s all they’ve got, particularly Rosencrantz, all they know how to do: they aren’t made for soliloquy, they need each other to talk to.


15 August 2011 [production viewed on 1 August]

I haven't yet put together a proper post on this production, and this probably isn't going to be it. But it’s raining heavily out, and I might as well, so I’ll at least describe what I wanted to write about with the Globe’s 1 Henry IV in the cinema, starting with how interesting and unexpected Jamie Parker’s Hal was: not cold and calculating and standing outside of himself (as I tend to imagine him), but spontaneous – he’s genuinely giddy and excited at “Well, then, once in my days I’ll be a madcap”: yay, adventure! – and raw (especially in the scene with his father, in which he yells “I am your son!” with all of this hurt and hunger for acceptance; or at the very end of the play – and Jamie’s silently-gutted face, as at the end of R & G, is wonderful – when he’s horrified rather than triumphant at the day’s bloody business). He’s working things out in the moment: he starts “I know you all” not as a revealing aside to the audience, but as a shouted comment to a departing Poins, and it’s only as he starts talking about it that he starts planning his attempt to “make offence a skill.” And yet he’s also capable of a winningly wry self-awareness in the moment: as when he says with sudden intense bitterness, “I am not yet of Percy’s mind” – a thought that is unmotivated by anything that’s come before1, so it reads as a resentment that’s always bubbling away in his mind somewhere, and just bubbles up to the surface here – but then he catches himself in that bitter resentment, recognizes it for what it is and laughs a little at himself (a slightly hard, knowing laugh), before going on to turn that sudden introduction of Percy into an inspired, disturbing, vulgar caricature of Hotspur and Kate. (At “Give my roan horse a drench,” he pulls out the tail of his shirt so that it peeps out lewdly from his doublet, and mimes an imaginary Kate performing fellatio on him.)

(And speaking of playing: it’s interesting that in Hal and Falstaff’s playacting of the interview between Hal and the King, the conversation is all about Falstaff, as though that’s going to be the point of contention, but the actual interview is all about the King’s twin specters, Richard II and Hotspur – because Hal is too much like the one and not enough like the other.)

And of course I wanted to write about Jamie’s natural, easy way with the language of the play (which is true of his Guildenstern too, and also of his Scripps); he’s not one of those mellifluous verse-speakers (for whom sometimes sound can overwhelm sense), but he speaks the most tangled or heightened lines as though they are his everyday idiom. There’s a rootedness to the way he speaks that impresses me so much. He’s also very good at reacting: Henry IV does go on about being wondered at like a comet, in that interview between father and son, and it would have been easy for Jamie simply to play one unvarying, sulky note, but he reacts to the different beats of the speech, and moves from a sort of slouching, self-protective unconcern through to genuine flushed-faced hurt. (He tries at one point to stop the harangue with the promise, or the plea, “I shall hereafter, my thrice-gracious lord, / Be more myself,” but the King runs roughshod over it almost as though Hal hadn’t spoken at all.)

And I wanted to write about Roger Allam, and how he did what I thought was well-nigh impossible: he made me enjoy Falstaff. What I really appreciated about his performance was that he didn’t play any one thing for too long, didn’t mug or wallow in a mood until it had worn out its welcome. In Falstaff’s “catechism” on honor, for example, he was able to convey a sense that Falstaff – like Jamie’s Hal, I suppose – was coming to these thoughts fresh, that he was thinking about them for the first time; and he brought a bit of sad realization to his discovery that honor cannot set a leg or an arm – but he didn’t force the speech into something that it wasn’t by trying then to play the whole thing sadly. He uncovered spaces for unexpected seriousness in his Falstaff, which provided some ballast for the joviality, but didn’t try to play him as a proto-tragic figure. Also, he was just flat-out funny, which Falstaff usually isn’t to me, at all. (I think, upon reflection, that this is because my beloved form of Shakespearean comedy is the rapid, challenging back-and-forth between characters – which even the lovers do – and so much of Falstaff’s speech is in thick wodges of solitary Eastcheap prose; he’s a one-man show instead of a conversation, even when there are other people in the room.) But again, I think that has to do with Roger Allam’s lightness of touch; he revealed the humor in the character rather than trying to play funny.

And I wanted to write about Sam Crane as Hotspur, and his adorable hair. (I’m kidding. I think.) I’d actually forgotten until some time after I saw Desperate Romantics that I had actually seen Sam Crane in something else: he was the hilariously prissy Roderigo in the Globe’s filmed Othello. But I wouldn’t have placed him in that production from this performance, either, although I thought his Hotspur was very funny. I don’t have any particular feelings about Hotspur the way I do with some other Shakespeare characters, though, which might have changed my reaction somewhat. He wasn’t a tragedy waiting to happen (which is how I think of Hotspur if I think of him at all), a shooting star burning up too fast and bright; instead, he was just intensely irritated by everything. I commented on sadcypress’ post that he was someone for whom there was no breathing room between the objective and the superlative, and I still think that’s right; it’s not so much that he’s hasty and hot-tempered (despite the name) as it is that he simply doesn’t register the existence of a middle ground: if a plan has any merit, it becomes the best plan ever in the very next breath, and if someone’s self-importance is mildly annoying to anyone else, this Hotspur sees it immediately as a desperate affront to reason and possibly civilization itself.

And perhaps this Hotspur suffers a bit in that this production has very little time for the glory and honor of war, which Hotspur believes in so much; it’s clear that it’s all machinations and backroom deals, manipulation of public images and broken promises, and Hotspur’s belief in how worthy it is “To pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon” isn’t enough to counterbalance that. When he and Hal meet on the battlefield, it isn’t a glorious moment or even the defining moment of Hal’s developmental arc that the play has been building toward: it’s an accident of chance, both Hal and Hotspur frayed and exhausted, and when he realizes that he’s facing his foil, Jamie’s Hal just laughs breathlessly, both at the situation (is this how it’s going to happen, after all my big talk?) and at the words he finds himself saying: there’s that self-awareness again, because he knows he’s just too tired to actually mean any of his boasts. (I’ve just looked at the text of those boasts, and it’s easy to imagine the glorious, stirring version: they’re very regular lines, of simple one- and two-syllable words; one could speak them in a very ringing music – “I am the Prince of Wales; and think not, Percy, / To share with me in glory any more.” Hal compares them both to stars in the firmament, elevated and exalted – “Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere” – but their bodies on that stage make it clear that they’re just bloody, gasping boys. And their fight is an undignified scramble for life; they’re not the heroes of Hotspur’s earlier valiant image, which sets them up as matched primal opponents: “Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse, / Meet and ne’er part till one drop down a corse.”)

I haven’t written at all about Hal and Falstaff together, which is odd: I liked them together, and I liked the particular note Jamie struck; because he wasn’t the cold and calculating prince, always prepared to turn cruelly on his friend, there was anger and frustration in his “I do, I will” – which, as with the rest of the production, they didn’t let linger portentously in the air; they just got on with it – and so Falstaff missed the warning. (The whole “ran away upon instinct” repetition starts out as a joke on Hal’s part, but by the final time he uses the word, after “I do, I will” – when he has to decide whether or not to allow the sheriff to search the tavern, when he says “And thou a natural coward without instinct” – it’s become darker and meaner; Hal means it, that last time, just as he’s disgusted when he’s confronted by the fact that the robbery wasn’t just high spirits or fun and games – “This oily rascal is known as well as Paul’s,” he says bitterly – and weary when he promises, “The money will be paid back again with advantage”: the fun has lost its savor, and the day is almost come.) Same with Hal’s frustration when he realizes that everything has to change now that war is on its way; he cries out “The land is burning!” as if he’s saying “Why can’t you understand?” or “Why can’t you ever be serious?” – and as the play comes to a close, he’s increasingly disgusted by and disappointed in Falstaff, as if, in spite of himself, he’d hoped for better, when it really counted.

1 What comes before is the scene with Francis the drawer, which even Jamie couldn’t make me like – it’s just so cruel – but it was vivid and raucous and well done. Weirdly, when Hal spills the ale all over Francis’ apron, he bends and starts to suck it out of the fabric – as though this is a perfectly natural thing to do; otherwise it’d go to waste, right? – and Francis goes sort of tense and trembling (at least this is how I remember it), fluttering his hands onto Hal’s hair as if to keep him there…I think this was supposed to be funny, but it broke my heart a bit.
Emily-- Toppington von Monocle: something more lingering [history boys]sadcypress on August 16th, 2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
Whatever, I love your character insights. :-p

I am SO VERY JEALOUS that you got to see RAGAD with those boys- such an exciting piece of casting, and I've never seen a production of that play that I liked. Admittedly, I've only seen it once on stage, but they were trying too hard to make it into Beckett and they played every line with these stupid, vaudevillian cadences that drove me MAD. How I would have loved to see their rapport tackling those exchanges... Ah well. Of all my flist, I am glad that you were the one to have gotten to see this show. :)
tempestsarekind: posnertempestsarekind on August 17th, 2011 12:02 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you!

I'd never seen R&G on stage before, just the movie...and now I sort of feel like I won't be able to see it again, because it won't be Sam and Jamie? They just worked *so* well for me, in a way that was actually really hard to describe, because my brain was just like, "They are all sparkles and perfection. You know perfect? They were that."

(They were both very good at taking each other down a peg, when the occasion arose.)
a_t_raina_t_rain on August 17th, 2011 03:54 am (UTC)
OMG, now I want to see the Henry IV SO MUCH. I hope they hurry up with the DVD release!
tempestsarekind: all the world's a stagetempestsarekind on August 18th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
Me too. :) I would like to watch it again! (I'm planning to go see 2H4 tomorrow at the same cinema, I think, so hopefully that will tide me over.)
the cold genius: hal and falstaffangevin2 on August 17th, 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
I loved the Globe 1H4 so much and I am glad to see someone else who did, because I felt like everyone else was all BUT BUT BUT HOTSPUR. And I think your description of him is perfect, especially this --

And perhaps this Hotspur suffers a bit in that this production has very little time for the glory and honor of war, which Hotspur believes in so much; it’s clear that it’s all machinations and backroom deals, manipulation of public images and broken promises, and Hotspur’s belief in how worthy it is “To pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon” isn’t enough to counterbalance that.

Yes yes yes -- but that is how I read the play, anyway, that the ideal Hotspur lives and dies for has no real-world counterpart, and that's his tragedy (this is, I think, another way Henry has it backwards when he says that Hotspur is like him and Richard is like Hal).


I noticed a couple of comments here and there about how Hal in this production wasn't calculating enough and also not enough of a sociopath, and, I dunno. I loved that he had that spontaneity you describe so well -- it's not that he's not calculating, and it's certainly not that he's not a dick (I thought this Hal was an incredible dick, as Hal should be), it's just that Henry V isn't fully formed yet. And that is fine, because this production really illustrated the pull that different forces have on him so beautifully -- actually Jamie Parker is the first Hal I've seen that did the soliloquy more or less the way I think it should be done, more impressed with his own cleverness than already distanced from the Eastcheap milieu.

Also, I do love Falstaff and Roger Allam I think is the Falstaff of my dreams.

(Really the only one of the four leads I didn't like was Oliver Cotton's Henry IV. He was way too shouty. Henry IV should not be that shouty.)
tempestsarekind: posner and scrippstempestsarekind on August 18th, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
I was a little bit concerned that my enjoyment of the production was heavily (that is to say, overly) influenced by my love of Jamie Parker, which is (part of) why it took me so long to sort out what I thought about it! But, as you say, Hal hasn't fully become Henry V yet; I'd be really interested to see Jamie do H5, to see how he developed.

the ideal Hotspur lives and dies for has no real-world counterpart, and that's his tragedy

That makes total sense; I just don't know if I'd seen it before? Though I've only seen the play once before anyway, I think. So maybe this is a more standard line; I never know these things!

this is, I think, another way Henry has it backwards when he says that Hotspur is like him and Richard is like Hal

Yeah, I've always thought that bit was weird, possibly a bit of willful self-deception--since Richard II's description of Bolingbroke ("Off goes his bonnet to an oyster-wench") has always struck me as being more like Hal, and totally unlike Henry IV's description of himself in 1H4.

Also, I agree about Oliver Cotton's shoutiness. :) It was a little distracting.
the cold genius: manly stiff-upper-lipped lancastrian angangevin2 on August 18th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
Well, I've never seen Jamie Parker in anything else and I thought he was a damn fine Prince Hal. I do hope they bring him back for Henry V in the not-too-distant future!

Yeah, I've always thought that bit was weird, possibly a bit of willful self-deception--since Richard II's description of Bolingbroke ("Off goes his bonnet to an oyster-wench") has always struck me as being more like Hal, and totally unlike Henry IV's description of himself in 1H4.

It totally is -- although Richard's description of Henry also isn't exactly confirmed by anything we see in the play, although we do see him schmoozing with the nobility. Nor is Henry's description of Richard anything like we've actually seen onstage. But then, Richard and Henry have highly-skewed images of each other, and while I read them as both actually having a certain level of self-awareness*, they are never, ever honest about their own behavior either.

Also, I agree about Oliver Cotton's shoutiness. :) It was a little distracting.

The thing that bugged me the most was his interaction with Hotspur in the first act -- especially "Shall our coffers then / Be ransomed to redeem a traitor home? [*gets RIGHT UP IN HOTSPUR'S FACE*] NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" I mean, seriously, what was that.

*This is where comparisons of either of them to Hotspur break down, though I know most (not fandom people, I mean general critical types) would disagree with me about Richard II being self-aware. I stand by it, though.
tempestsarekind: bored history boystempestsarekind on August 18th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
I might be just the tiniest bit obsessed with The History Boys, in which Jamie Parker has a sizable part...

while I read them as both actually having a certain level of self-awareness*, they are never, ever honest about their own behavior either.

ooh, I like that as a description of the both of them! As for Richard being self-aware, I think it's weird how much criticism has focused, generally, on how kingship (or queenship) is not just something that happens to you, it's something you deploy--but that never quite seems to trickle down to Richard II in this play. I guess because then we'd all have to let go of our easy dichotomies about how Bolingbroke, unlike Richard, is the King Of The Future because he understands how to manipulate public image. Or...something.
the cold genius: know ye not that?angevin2 on August 18th, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
I think that criticism of both 1 Henry IV and Richard II are weird about the issue of self-awareness, and royal self-presentation, and as usual I think it has a lot to do with gender -- certainly criticism always acknowledges that Shakespeare presents Richard II as feminine, but then tends to get hung up either on the idea that it's a deliberate element of his self-presentation, or that we are meant to see that as him being weak, unless of course it's Fiona Shaw playing the part and then it's okay because he's embodied by a woman and not a man acting all icky and girly. (Likewise, we are supposed to ignore it when Henry refers to Richard as queer, but assume he is basically right about Richard's self-presentation otherwise.) Cf. also: the kind of feedback I get on all my scholarly work ever, which tends to run along the lines of "why are you putting gender in this, it's not about gender, or if it is, it's certainly not about gender in the way you say it is!"

(That said, the most conventional reading is that Henry V is best at self-representation but that he learned it from his dad. Which -- I dunno, it's not wrong, I just think Richard deserves more credit than he usually gets. ;) )
tempestsarekind: historiestempestsarekind on August 18th, 2011 01:53 am (UTC)
I was assigned 1 Henry IV at least twice before I'd ever read Richard II, so basically my reaction to that play for a long time was "Who are all these people and what are they all on about?" So I'm still finding my feet with regard to 1H4, but it's interesting to go back to it and realize how everyone is still talking about Richard and how definitive he is: Henry V's take on what it means to be king sort of has to be inflected by Richard, somehow, because he's still there, even on the battlefield the night before Agincourt.

I also think all the lectures I've ever heard about R2 are about how Richard is a weak king, which tends to drive me slightly nuts--because a) feminine =/= weak; and b) wow, that's so dull a story to insist on with this play.
the cold genius: ricardus secundusangevin2 on August 18th, 2011 03:50 am (UTC)
1 Henry IV was my first history play and I fell madly in love with it -- although to be fair I was about the only person in the class who did! But it does feel quite different after you've done Richard II, or at least the specific ways in which people lie to themselves and others about the past are much clearer. :D

So I'm still finding my feet with regard to 1H4, but it's interesting to go back to it and realize how everyone is still talking about Richard and how definitive he is

YES. And they talk about him EVEN MORE in 2H4 and I hope so much that the Globe production doesn't cut a bunch of it, because in productions of the Henry IVs without Richard II attached a lot of it tends to get chopped, especially because there is a tendency to be perfunctory about the Archbishop's rebellion, which always makes me sad because there's a lot of good speeches; I guess the problem is that we don't really know the characters, particularly. Although it is my priggish boy John's moment of highly questionable glory. ;)

Anyway. OMNIPRESENT RICHARD. One of the things I absolutely adored in the Globe production was Hal's reaction when Henry brought him up! OH HAL. THAT IS THE WAY TO MAKE ME (ALMOST) LIKE YOU (as a person, I mean, obviously I like the performance). I know that Shakespeare didn't really do much in the way of suggesting any kind of relationship between Hal and Richard, as was the case in history, more or less, but I like that you can make it work as subtext (or, you know, in fic). :D
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on August 18th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
Tee hee. Yes, it's much clearer what everyone is being all ambivalent about!

I really liked Hal's reaction, too! You should write fic about it. :)
the cold geniusangevin2 on August 18th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC)
I should! But faithhopetricks and gileonnen and lareinenoire have all written such great Richard-Hal (and in one case Richard/Hal) fic that I feel like anything I did would be a pale copy at best.
tempestsarekind: typewritertempestsarekind on August 23rd, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
It's not that I don't know that feeling (it is basically my life), but I know you've written great fic too, so.
the cold genius: richard ii is fabulous.angevin2 on August 18th, 2011 03:51 am (UTC)
Oh, and as far as lectures and R2 being a Weak King and the equation of femininity with weakness, I should send you the intro to my dissertation, which consists almost entirely of complaining about that perception.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on August 18th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
You totally should!