Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal 1

"This is a major exercise in not sounding like Kenneth Branagh!" Says Jamie in this second interview. He talks about wanting to make Henry his own and his apprehension of performing the King's two big speeches.

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Time: 8 minutes 44 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

Which relationships in the play are important to your character and why?

Jamie Parker: 

All of them. Mostly because he’s very alone. I hadn’t quite realised that before we started – I mean I had – but he’s very isolated, he’s very on his own, he’s very much a public figure, and he’s very, very good at the public face. So you get very small windows as to what’s going on inside. Early on in the story, in Act ii, there’s a scene where he rumbles a plot, which includes his best friend, to have him assassinated. And he is left with no other choice but to sentence all of these conspirators to death, including his best friend. Historically he had his best friend hung drawn and quartered, which is something he didn’t do to any of the others – it hurt. It clearly was the one that stung. But again the imagery and the rhetoric he uses in that moment of betrayal when he’s harrying Scroop for betraying him is very ultimate, it’s very crafted, it’s very theological. It’s a deeply theological play. Which is an odd thing, it’s sort of kind of fallen to me to defend the theology of the play-something I never thought I would quite end up doing. Something else that makes it difficult for us to watch now in this secular age is [its] very ‘all about the God’. After that moment he’s very much on his own, he’s surrounded by potential father figures, he no longer has his own father. Falstaff’s another, you could say betrayal of his own. There’s no one else he is allowed to actually relax into and develop a sense of closeness with. There’s Exeter, there’s Westmoreland, there’s the Archbishop of Canterbury, there’s Fluellen. There’s all these people who have potential moments where they could become someone who he actually has a bond with, but it’s just not there. It’s a deeply male, testosterone based, marshal soldierly, get the job done, do it cheerfully. But it’s iron and steel, and blood, it’s not chocolate and roses. That doesn’t happen until Act v.  

Hayley:

Is there any scene that is particularly significant in the interpretation of your character?

Jamie:

I don’t know what my interpretation of my character is, in the sense that this is quite a new experience for me, playing a major role which is a prestigious role, which also has a couple of famous performances and interpretations attached to it already. One of them is engrained on my memory from a very young age so in a sense this is a major exercise in not sounding like Kenneth Branagh, basically. There’s an element to which during rehearsals so far I’ve had to go out of my way to do something different whatever it is, until we’ve all relaxed into just doing the play as if it were any other play. 
The two scenes that are hardest in that sense are before the gates of Harfleur with “Once more unto the breach dear friends” and the Crispin’s day speech. Because, and I didn’t realise this the other day, they are probably in a sense harder than, say, “To be or not to be”. Because there’s no specific reaction expected from “To be or not to be”, it’s just the sublimeness of the thoughts themselves. Hamlet comes on and he has those thoughts and nobody reacts in a particular way. Whereas when you should “God for Harry, England and St George” if you don’t have every bloke of able bodied age in the theatre wanting to pick up a pointy bit of metal and stick it through another human beings chest, then you haven’t got there. And if at Crispin’s day if you haven’t got everyone’s heart bursting out of their chest and, again, ready to start kicking some French butt, you haven’t got there. And there’s no getting round that. It came to the first time of doing Crispin’s day in rehearsals, and that really hit home.  James did his line “What’s he that wishes so?” and suddenly all the guys turn around and look at you and it’s just a bunch of actors, watching another actor doing a really famous speech, and you’re like ‘this is weird, this is really weird’. And I got the giggles doing it because it was just incredibly exposing. So I’m just trying to get past that, and just end up working on it as if it were any other play.  

Hayley:

I think they’re interesting those speeches how they will differ in the Globe to elsewhere because obviously in the globe you can see everyone else, so the audience are also part of your audience so that will be interesting.

Jamie:

Well you have licence at the globe and the difference will be when we are on tour we will see the audience but they will be sitting down,  which in itself is a bit of a hurdle to get past. James Lailey said it the other day, about when the Globe started up again, and started doing Shakespeare; you start to think I can’t imagine why we did Shakespeare any other way. I can’t conscience now the idea of doing Shakespeare with the audience in the dark. Having the licence to look at a groundling, and say: “show us here the metal of your pasture. Let us swear that you are worth your breeding. Tell him set the teeth stretch the nostril wide.” And that’s going to be scary, in case they yawn and start texting. But that’s the danger of it, is the feeling that you might actually get one or two of them coming with you when you run upstage, and just start running up in their hoodie. I think that would be brilliant if we could actually do that!

Hayley:

My next question, you may have already answered it, is have any scenes proved difficult for you to unlock?

Jamie:

Yeah all of them. It’s very simple, in one sense it’s a very simple play, it’s not a complicated story, Arthury type legendary king goes on a righteous campaign, wins. It’s just like any other Shakespeare play – it’s treacherous, it’s complex, there are infinite options, it’s just a case of pairing it down to a bunch of options that happen to sit comfortably with the particular group you’ve got to work with and try not to make the speeches sound not so much like speeches as dialogue. And in that sense it’s just like any other play.

Hayley:

I think it’s quite reassuring that you’re comfortable enough in it all.

Jamie:

It makes it sound rather confident and complacent which I’m certainly not.

Hayley:

It’s like you’re seeing your character as a whole...

Jamie:

Yeah as Dom’s pointed out it’s rather like play-lets; the betrayal scene in Act ii, they’re very self-contained. Act i, council, cool messenger type stuff going on. Act ii the whole story with the best friend, and then it’s a war film. But it gets to Harfleur, and goes on and on and on. It is quite picaresque, it’s like Mallory, and it’s that chivalric stuff. You turn a page, and there’s an image. And there’s nothing more complicated going on than that image. But it’s that image in all of its glorious multifarious expression and with everything else that it includes. But the image itself is quite simple. Mining it for all the different buttons you’re trying to push in people.

Hayley:

How have the jig rehearsals been going?

Jamie:

Ahh Sian Williams! Sian’s done every single show here I’ve done I think, and it never fails to make me howl with laughter! And you get to the end of a few hours of medieval-ness and then the salsa beat comes on, and you’re just like “of course it does”. Process is on-going, I’m not a dancer so I always feel very self-conscious, but you have no option, especially when you get into the Globe itself. You don’t have any option; you just dance like nobody’s watching. Because anything less than that is just excruciating. I think it’s going to be a good one. It feels every bit as raucous, but not quite as silly as say, the Henry IV one or the As You Like It ones. It feels quite proud and stampy which I’m quite looking forward to. 

Hayley:

Have you got all heavy gear on at the time?

Jamie:

I might be wearing a floor-length dress/frock/coat, and a crown, and bit of bling. We’ll have to see how that one goes, it might get all a bit…tango-ey… swishing the old skirt around!

Hayley:

Do what you can!

Jamie:

Yeah exactly - sell it!

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