|Simon Russell Beale's Falstaff
||[Jul. 8th, 2012|12:45 pm]
Was Falstaff ever funny? Well, of course he was. That's why the Elizabethan's couldn't get enough of him. He was the Homer Simpson of his day- an utterly reprehensible character you couldn't help but love. |
I've never seen him played for laughs. I suppose it can be done. Contrary to the received wisdom, Shakespeare can be very funny if you know how to hit the right notes. It's just that we see something else in the fat knight. We see the pathos, the wisdom. Orson Welles pushed this to the limits by claiming he was Shakespeare's portrait of a thoroughly "good man".
Siomon Russell Beale is a little chap. I wasn't prepared for that. And the voice is light and musical, not basso profundo. His Falstaff is a decayed gentleman living on his wits, a barfly with the graces and social confidence of the class he's tumbled out of- who survives by flashing his privilege. He would like to clamber back where he came from but you know he's never going to because- liar though he is- he's not enough of one to play at chivalry. His lies are preposterously innocent, designed to be found out. How can he fool others when he knows himself so well? And who wants honour, anyway, at the price you have to pay for it- at the price Hotspur pays, at the rather different price that Hal is paying? If it comes easy- as a gift from a patron- that's another matter. Also he's afraid. It's there in the eyes- big, expressive,rolling eyes; desperation is their normal register, rising to panic and stunned misery. There's no smile in them. No humour. He doesn't like you; he doesn't like himself. Eastcheap is his bolt hole. If this man wasn't so rotound he'd be ratty.
You do write well. Who'd have thought -- a dissection of Falstaff. A taking a look at him from an entirely different view. Homer Simpson = Falstaff. Indeed!
I don't mind Beale the actor but as soon as he is off stage I want to throttle the (cont p.8)
I know nothing about his off-stage persona.
Heard him interviewed and he was annoying. That is all.
2012-07-08 03:31 pm (UTC)
I saw Michael Gambo play Falstaff a few years ago. He was touchingly pathetic. You could see why Hal loved him, but also, very clearly, why he had to drop him.
Hal is a cold fish. He tells us very near the beginning of the play how he plans to drop Falstaff and win political advantage from it. In this production Tom Hiddleston plays him with a cheesy grin- modelled (I can't hep thinking) on Tony Blair's.
If this man wasn't so rotound he'd be ratty.
That's a very good, damning description.
I can't remember as much about the Falstaff I saw two years ago in The Coveted Crown (the Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of both parts of Henry IV incorporating the end of Richard II and the first few scenes of Henry V) because I was paying more attention to their Prince Hal and their Hotspur, but I do remember that there was a sense in which he scared Hal—perhaps the prince breaks with him as much out of panic as politics—because Hal as played by Bill Barclay was not a fair youth fallen among bad friends; he's a screwup and a spendthrift and he's banking on his ability to make himself over into a worthy heir, pretending nobility at first, trusting the feeling will come in later, but it would be so much easier to be someone like Falstaff, coasting on spare change and charm. I left the theater wishing they'd just roared straight into the rest of Henry V, but at least they kept the Dauphin's gift of tennis balls, because here it had a real sting: the new-crowned Henry isn't so sure he's not still that dissolute, callow, calculating boy, much as he would like everyone—and himself—to believe his change of heart. I would love to have seen what they did with a Henry that ambiguous on the fields of France.
Edited at 2012-07-08 06:44 pm (UTC)
Hiddleston's Hal is having fun in Eastcheap, but he doesn't love these people. The big shiny smile is the smile of a modern politician. He never loses control. The scene in which he and Poins make fun of Francis the Ostler is ugly. This is Bullingdon Club humour- two posh boys mocking an oik. There were times when I hated him.
Edited at 2012-07-09 01:17 pm (UTC)
This is Bullingdon Club humour- two posh boys mocking an oik. There were times when I hated him.
That's going make an interesting Henry V. Keep us posted.