Monday 12 July 2010

Another Swan

This time not Cyril but the "Swan of Avon" as Ben Jonson poetically described Welshman William Shakespeare (see this post). I spend the weekend in Surrey in order to attend the Globe Theatre for Henry iv 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday night. Although a brilliant theatre it is excruciatingly uncomfortable so my advice is:- (a) don't even think about standing in the pit unless you are an impoverished teenage athlete (even that may not be enough - in a particularly bloody Titus Andronicus I saw several people pass out and get carried away on special stretchers); (b) go for a seat to the rear of the tiered galleries so you have something to lean against; (c) take a cushion.

The two Henry iv's are my favourite plays and I have seen some memorable performances defined mostly by whoever plays Falstaff. Robert Stevens in the famous Adrian Noble RSC production in Stratford (1993) remains my favourite; but Michael Gambon at the National Theatre in 2005 was a great disappointment in spite of sycophantic reviews (one critic observed in passing the small matter that you couldn't hear him properly from the cheap seats - guess where I was sitting - which I reckon is an irreconcilable defect). This weekend's productions (link here) are excellent with lots of music and action, great visual effects from costume and scenery, good diction (M Gambon please note), and a lack of undue reverence for the language and text.

My picture shows Owen Glendower discussing the division of spoils with Mortimer and Hotspur. It is historically accurate I believe that the rebels' plan had Glyndwr not only getting back his own country but also a massive and fertile chunk of the Midlands: so why didn't he turn up at the Battle of Shrewsbury which would surely have won the day for the rebel cause? Well, for all the speculation it was probably because of some bureaucratic delay: like the Assembly Government's deadlines today Glendower's promise of an army in "less than two weeks" - and whatever the real Glyndwr estimated - may have been optimistic.

The weather is sweltering and getting into central London something of an ordeal. Waiting for the train to Waterloo in Farnham station an old man points out some house sparrows in the bushes on the other side of the line. There used to be far more of those, he says, before the busybodies from the RSPB "reintroduced" sparrowhawks a few years ago: he warned them but says he just got a lot of patronising reassurances. Sparrows had been decimated since, whether I believed it or not. I said I believed it: the clue is in the name - "sparrowhawk".