Adapted by Errol Durbach from Henry lV, 1 & ll.
Directed by Glynis Leyshon
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival,
Studio Stage, Vanier Park.
to September 22nd, 2010
Vancouver, BC: Having enjoyed both the Mainstage productions of Much Ado about Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra, I did not want to miss Bard's two Studio Stage shows of the 2010 season. So before I took off for a London visit to dine and see theatre prior to going Ballroom Dancing round the British Isles, I made my plans to see Falstaff and Henry V on successive nights soon after my return.
In retrospect, that was probably not the smartest move on my part. As it turned out I headed down to Vanier Park to see Falstaff two nights after I got back when my chrono-biological clock was telling me it was 4 am rather than the actual 8 PM Pacific Time. Compound jet-lag with an unusually humid, warm Vancouver evening and I confess that despite Dean Paul Gibson's rollicking performance as the larger-then-life Falstaff, Kevin McNulty's sober and ailing Henry IV, and Alessandro Juliani's sensitive portrayal Prince Hal, I found it a little hard to get caught up in Prince Hal's issues with his biological and "adoptive" fathers. That's my loss, because I remember feeling real pity for the publicly rejected Falstaff in an earlier version of this play when it was done at UBC several years ago.
As UBC Emeritus Professor Errol Durbach explains, for the Falstaff adaptation he has deconstructed Parts I and II of Henry IV with the intent of "condensing the action, tightening the conflict and intensifying the drama" to show the opposing pulls of Prince Hal's two "fathers"; his biological father, Henry IV, the ruler of England, and the jovial but anarchistic reprobate knight, Falstaff.
Chorus (Colleen Wheeler) sets the stage and provides a frame for the narrative. Henry IV has taken over the throne from the murdered Richard II. His son Hal is carousing with Sir John Falstaff (Dean Paul Gibson) and his cronies, Poins (Kevin James) and Bardolph (Bernard Cuffling) in the ale houses of Eastcheap. His dad wants him to be preparing to be king, but actually I think, it is the learning about how common society functions outside the rigid atmosphere of the court that probably makes him the great leader that he ultimately becomes.
Henry is facing open rebellion from his one-time noble supporters. Among them is Hotspur (Bob Frazer), son of Northumberland (David Marr) whose bravery the King admired and whom he wished Hal would emulate. When the rebels attack, Hal realizes his potential as a warrior, saves his father's life and kills Hotspur. When his ailing father dies Hal, now Henry V, realizes that as king, he must reject Falstaff and his lifestyle. Falstaff collapses and dies.
Although this play is titled Falstaff, the dramatic tension derives from the choice that Hal must ultimately make: will he continue his roisterous playboy existence or accept the mantle of rulership. In a thoughtful and intelligent performance, Juliani draws you into his thought processes as he changes from the care-free youth, playing tricks on Falstaff and his friends, to the sober man who accepts his kingly responsibilities.
There were also many wonderfully comedic scenes and I specially enjoyed the antics of Justice Silence (Charlie Gallant) and Justice Shallow (David Marr).
Gibson does an outstanding job of filling the complex role of Falstaff, both literally and figuratively, from the wicked twinkle in his eyes to the braggadocio. But for me the pain of his rejection and his "broken-hearted" death were far outweighed by the pleasure of watching Hal assume his heroic identity.
I left the Studio Stage looking forward to the following night, seeing - and hearing - the inspiring speeches of Henry V and enjoying my favorite scenes of involving Katharine, the French Princess who will become Henry's wife.
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