Saturday, 7 July 2012

Henry IV Part One. Or, BBC2, come and get your kicking

Kicking? That's for causing chaos in this house at precisely 9:01 pm.

And again, at 9:03, 9:06, 9:15, 9:20, and 9:32. Thanks for nothing, BBC2.

Clearly, BBC2 does not understand what a bloody big thing is The Hollow Crown in this household.

I already frantically made a telephone call to Brazil. Could I make the bastard TV work? I'd punched its knobs for a god-forsaken hour. The only human being this heap of valve-based metal junk responds to is Dig, and he's snoring in Rio.

Never mind what time it is. TELL ME WHAT BUTTON TO PRESS.

Against all odds, at 8:59 la famille Grit is all lined up, on sofas, chairs, and cushions, eagerly staring at a creaking prehistoric TV, anticipating Eyre's version of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part One.

Death. Amorality. Kingship. Rebellion. Dishonour. We watch people hit a ball to each other.


9:01. Confusion. 9:02. Doubt. 9:03. Fear. 9:04. My heart is palpitating. Where is Henry IV Part One? Did I press the wrong button and get the wrong picture? Shark is screaming WHAT'S HAPPENING? Tiger is pulling herself up by the hair and Squirrel is hyperventilating.

Then BBC2 calmly announce they're showing tennis! Maybe not; maybe later for The Hollow Crown; maybe never! But hey, THERE'S TENNIS.

In this house, there is CHAOS, pure and simple. The triplets respond in much the same manner they always have done when brought together for a great overwhelming excitement, but are then denied the moment. See them as they see their joyous expectation cruelly snatched away and emptiness dumped in its place. They thump each other.

They have done the same since birth. Since Tiger hit Squirrel with the shovel. Since Shark punched Tiger in the face with a cycle helmet. They are triplets, BBC2, and  THIS IS WHAT I'VE LIVED WITH.

I am straight on Twitter, which shows you just how far things went to push me there. I'm telling you, BBC2, if you had reneged on that promise - failed to screen Henry IV at 10:00 - there would have been riot vans outside this house at 10:01 and I'd be marching straight down to London with the first things that come to hand on exiting the front door and that is fittingly one lily vase and a tennis raquet.

Now, having got that off my chest, I can throw out first thoughts on this production.

Oh happy day!

Weird it was not. Neither outlandish, nor dressing everyone in space suits, no shit like that. Wonderfully cinematic, the scenes were beautifully medieval, from the audience-involving opening scene in the street outside the Boar's Head Eastcheap tavern to the final battlescenes at Shrewsbury.

Visually delicious, the tavern and castle scenes were perfectly presented for spotlights, diffusions and shadows; the music was discreet and well chosen; the costume colouring was excellent, blending tones of browns, russets, pinks, plums, greys; and the camera work brought out characters and ideas in the play smoothly and gently.

Yes, it's all licky love. Rare on gritsday. Oh shut up. Let me enjoy the gush.

Hiddleston as the rogue Prince Harry was brilliant. He trod a careful line in a wide range: from being pleased with his own wit but never smug, delighting in the company of Falstaff but never seduced by it, being simultaneously disingenuous and brutally honest. In his dealings with Falstaff he trod borderlands of mockery and true affection and, in the key play scene - the father/son relationship explored in the tavern - he showed both remote kingly authority and intimate human insight.

Joe Armstrong as Hotspur was fantastically hot-headed. I loved that no-nonsense accent. The yelling at slamming doors after the royal meeting. The growling and pacing, turning and snarling, the mouth-wiping with the back of the fist. Perfect. I loved too the representation of his relationship with wife Kate; the slapping about and intimate physical interaction which showed the character perfectly.

What can I find annoying, misplaced, or overdone in this? Damn, nothing at all.

The entire cast was cracking. Jeremy Irons was well suited to the drawn and gaunt-faced King Henry. I wouldn't cross him with all that tortured suppressed angst. Who'd enjoy a ticking off from the lean and grim Jeremy Irons? 

And Falstaff was so much better, thanks to Simon Russell Beale, than the version first put in my head, c1977. At the age of 17 I obviously hadn't spent the proper amount of hours in boozers getting irresponsibly drunk with characterful people. The Falstaff I store in brain bucket A Level is far too abstract - he's a removed-from-reality globeful of sinful continents; the academic inverse of royal governance.

In the Eyre production Falstaff is not abstract at all; he is a social creature, feeding from other people as he feeds them. And Beale brilliantly plays the crucial theme of the father/son relationship. As the alternate father to Hal, he can never show the sacrifice that love requires. A father would put his son's interests first. Beale (Hiddleston, camera work, and the tender music) bring it to that point where - almost - I could believe Falstaff would care about Hal, but I know those eyes are ultimately for Falstaff; his self-interest and self-love comes ahead of all; he sacrifices nothing. These wonderful actors have put these performances on lines that bring out the nuances, complexities and interests of the plays.

See, I'm looking for a miserly thing to say about it but I'm still failing.

Okay, the soliloquy Hal speaks early on - the secret plan to immerse himself in the underworld and emerge great and glorious - I know you all... herein will I imitate the sun etc etc - never quite convinced me. But that's in the original play. Hal's obviously enjoying living the low-life, and Shakespeare provides him with a lot of fine notty pated greasy roasted tallow to enjoy.

Howabout I declare an interest in the Welsh aspect of the play, having married a family which throws itself back to Welsh poets and scholars? Any opportunity to be simultaneously proud of them and take the piss out of them always proves attractive to me. What can I see, but that double edge shown here? The love scene between Lady Mortimer (speaks Welsh) and Lord Mortimer (doesn't speak Welsh) needs Interpreter Daddy (bombastic, self-important Owen Glendower). The relationship deserves to be, and is, mocked, but there's touching tenderness in it too.

Well I have to find something annoying, right?

Okay, t'castle oop North looked stereotypically grim. Plenty of lowering cloud, bare grey stone, studded wooden doors, harsh light, echoes, gloom. Reflects a twentieth century interpretation of life in t'castle. But did it harm? Damn, not a bit of it.

Someone point me out something in this production that was vile, for goodness sake, otherwise next I'll be ascending to heaven on a cloud.

I've thought of something.


1 comment:

Big mamma frog said...

I thought about watching it. Thought about taping it. Then visualised my kids' eyes glaze over when I told them what delights were in store for them and did neither.