Back from London, part I
Myself, Kim and Morgan have returned to Pune – arriving back home around 5 am on Jan 1 – while elder daughter Alex is back in Boston enjoying one of our signature New England weather events. Herewith some initial report on our revels.
A minor hitch at the start of our visit, Alex’ Christmas Eve flight from Boston to London after a long delay had to be rescheduled; her connector to Halifax would arrive long after the second leg to London had departed. She was re-booked for the 26th and was able to reach London first thing Friday morning where, groggy but mobile was able to join us in our rambles about town, and later to see Henry V.
First of the shows we saw was The Mousetrap, a comic mystery by Agatha Christie which has been playing continuously for over 60 years. This was tremendously entertaining; if you have read somewhat of Dame Agatha’s works – as have myself, Kim and Morgan – you quickly pick up on her signature characterizations. As to the ending I can only say if you see this show, you will be guessing up till the conclusion – after which the actors taking their final bows, swear you to secrecy to never reveal the mystery. Like the rest of the show, this vow is a quaint throwback, quite meaningless in the internet age … still I’ll leave it to others to reveal the identity of the killer.
On Friday it was off for more serious fare with Henry V starring Jude Law. This is rather a hot ticket, but I was able to snag 4 seats via GetMeIn.com (said seats having been purchased by one Craig C Willers and re-sold to me).
This play is well known to our family, all of us having watched many times both the Olivier and Branagh versions, as well as local productions. The first thing to say about this show, directed by Michael Grandage, was that it was “raw” Shakespeare. The sets are spare – nor more than the “wooden O” Shakespeare himself cited – and the actors render their lines with an uptempo pacing that moves the show along. These things are in line with the goals of the Grandage Company, which are to produce plays accessible to a younger, wider audience; in this season of 5 plays 100,000 tickets were kept at a price of £10.
However, while I enjoy any staging of Shakespeare where a top company of actors comes together under top direction, I feel this show missed its opportunity. This play is supposed to cap the cycle that begins in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. In those plays the young Henry searches for his place in the world, looking through the eyes of men both common and noble. In Henry V, the king must integrate these two views and finally resolve his own character.
Alas, Jude Law did not bring that through to us. His Henry was never at a loss, never in doubt, even though the play gives him many chances to show this struggle, as in the scene where the traitors are uncovered – Jude was scolding and smug in his treatment of the turncoats, showing not a hint of self-doubt after betrayal by his own best friend – or as in the famous “Harry in the night” scene – rather than discovering the answers to the hard questions posed by the common soldiers, Jude almost berates them in a “how can you be so thick?” tone. Law’s Henry ends the play as he began, a good and upright king – which is fine, but I was hoping for something more.
Still, this was an excellent show that kept us hanging on every word. Pistol, Bardolph and Nym were very well done – they were very much the human face of the play – and the final wooing scene with Henry and Princess of France Katherine was the best I have seen – it captured both Henry the soldier bringing a human touch to state courtship, and Katherine the princess as a bargaining chip, but one who is determined to speak truth, as when she says “the tongues of men are full of deceit”.