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RSS Pre-Rehearsals

"I’d quite like to be him", says Jamie Parker about playing the role of Henry V. In this pre-rehearsal interview Jamie talks about his initial reactions to Henry V and playing the King in this season’s production.

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Time: 9 minutes 4 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

Were you familiar with the play before?

Jamie Parker:

Yes.

Hayley:

And did you read it before starting?

Jamie:

Yes.

Hayley:

Great. Good start! So what were your initial impressions of the play?

Jamie:

Well. Let me answer a bit more fully. It wasn’t the first Shakespeare play I ever saw but it was the first one that ever hooked me from start to finish and it is very much a little boy’s play in a sense. You’re right in the crosshairs. I think I was eight years old/nine years old when we sat and watched the Branagh film in Mr Cobb’s English class and I was just like that [makes open-mouthed face] from start to finish. So I’ve kind of been hooked on it for about twenty five years. That’s about as long as I’ve been wanting to do it, which is probably something that I shouldn’t say out loud. Anyway, what were my impressions of it? It’s just a phenomenally exciting play. It’s just a brilliant, brilliant story. It’s a complete gallop; it clicks along at a race of knots. It’s a very, very simple story. It’s possibly the most accessible. I mean, if an eight year old is gripped from start to finish.  There is something about it which is very uncomplicated, in one sense, in the kind of buttons that it pushes and then of course as time goes on you look into it at more depth and you realise just how complex it actually is. It’s a play that’s often abducted by propagandists, and people say it’s quite manipulative and it’s this very torrential, royal flag flying, jingoistic thing and it can be used in that way but it’s also, more simply, a play that offers us more than just mundane norms. It’s about a human being trying to live up to another particular ideal and he happens to be doing an incredibly good job of it. What makes it debatable is that the ideal doesn’t necessarily sit very comfortably with our value systems now. So a Medieval chivalric, romantic ideal leaves a lot of things out, like cynical post-monarchical, secular, democratic realpolitik, which in a way doesn’t have a place in the play but of course it does in our minds as we’re watching it now. The difficulty, I find, is that I completely buy into the idealism of the play. I’m a complete sucker for it. Funnily, only with this play. It’s something about this play that does it. Other plays might try to do the same thing and I just don’t buy into it in the same way; I’d be openly cynical and jaded about such things. This one, I’m not totally sure why, it has something about it where I’m willing to suspend that kind of cynicism and just hand myself over to it. I’m not quite sure what that says about me. I’d quite like to be him.

Hayley:

You are, are you not?

Jamie:

Well he just displays an extraordinary list of qualities which just aren’t really in fashion nowadays. They’re very basic, they’re very male orientated, definitely, and it’s a marriage of brutality and thought that is an impossible ideal that it seems a lot of male psyche aspires to…. I’d openly quite happily be him if I could. So the chance of pretending to be him is quite exciting.

Hayley:

I think that’s as close as you’re going to get! What were your initial impressions of the character? What do you know about him or what do we know about him?

Jamie:

Historically? Well, the book Agincourt is a fantastic read and it does give an account of someone who, for all the dilatability of his actions and the cynicism surrounding a just holy campaign, it does acknowledge that he did seem to have been exceptional.  He was an exceptional administrator, which might sound really boring but for the fact that he wouldn’t have been able to achieve what he did without those skills from quite a young age when his father was still running the country. Richard II and Henry IV both, when it came to money and book keeping and politics and all the fighting  and in-fighting that was going on had a kind of resentment that built up and it made it impossible to make any kind of decision and it was all just terribly bitter and messy. Somehow, it seems, because [Henry V] was clearly something of a micro-manager, nobody’s books were too lowly for him to double check the maths and sign off on them. And because he was rigorously and publically prepared to play fair, he gave people a second chance. If they screwed up on the second chance that was it, you were finished. He just played a very clear-sighted kind of snooker game or chess game, several moves down the line. He wouldn’t have even been been able to get the campaign over to France up and running if he hadn’t a thousand ducks in a row first. Raising money just to get the infrastructure to get everybody over there in the first place. He wouldn’t have been able to get access if he hadn’t done all this political rambling, getting people to make friends. He managed to talk more money out of the house of commons with less trouble than any other king. Richard II raised less money in taxes and it caused the Peasant’s Revolt, because of the way he did it. Henry V made much more money and had huger levels of tax and people went “yes” Take it! You’re such a good guy!” He somehow managed to make people love and adore him. You could be cynical about that or you could say that even the most cynical approach wouldn’t be able to achieve it purely cynically. There has to be something behind it, otherwise it’s just cynicism and people don’t buy into it.

Hayley:

Well, I was going to ask, did you do any preparation for the role before rehearsals? We could talk back to Henry IV, because you’ve played it before, in a different way. 

Jamie:

Yes. It’s sort of the ultimate, isn’t it? Now I can’t imagine coming to the play without having done [Prince] Hal, because it is a new page, a new chapter in his life, a new sound coming out of his mouth. It’s the making of him. The play is about the making of him. It’s about him achieving his apotheosis and begetting his antlers-however you want to put it. He fills out, broadens out and becomes his own man. I suppose you only fully get a sense of that if you’ve experienced going through deeply not having coming into your own beforehand. Whether that will come across to people who didn’t see our productions of Henry IV, I’ve got absolutely no idea. Probably not, but it’s made the whole thing very familiar in a way. I’ve been something quite Zen about the whole thing because Henry IV was such a juggernaut. And also, Roger’s presence as Falstaff just sort of there, just standing over it. He was such a linchpin to the whole thing, he was a leviathan, theatrical figure. It was this bedrock. An absolutely unmovable bedrock of theatrical life and presence for all the rest of us to build upon. And having experience of that directly in the pub scenes and just to have that cooking away in the background and build on that is…is a birthday present. And there were times doing that Boar’s head pub scene-it’s a half hour play in itself-and I was just on stage and the audience were killing themselves and I’m there going “I get paid to do this? This is nuts, it’s absolutely nuts!” So, yeah, a lot of shoes to fill, in a lot of ways. Not that I’m trying to fill Roger Allan’s shoes in terms of performance, but just in terms of everything that’s leading up to this play and what it means personally and in a literary sense. It’s also the last of the history plays that [Shakespeare] wrote, discounting Henry VIII, which is sort of a separate thing. Out of the cycle, starting with the Wars of the Roses, he wrote the last ones first and went back to the beginning and Henry V is the last one and it’s in many ways a play about things reaching their perfection. The most perfect possible state. I mean, Don would probably disagree with me but there’s a thought which I’ve read that I kind of agree with which is that, in romance or in chivalric literature, it does dare to ask what would life be like if a human being did exhibit perfect Kinship. And in terms of, again, their perfect value system that isn’t ours, there is a fallible, flawed human being doing a damn good job at exhibiting pretty close to perfect kinship and that’s exciting. I just find that more exciting than I find watching the West Wing exciting. Although, I suppose in a sense, that’s sort of the equivalent now. It’s an ideal and there is nothing wrong with idealism in the sense of giving you something to aim for or some kind of orientation.

 


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