Wednesday, 31 December 2014

On looking up at Bathhurst Mansions and finding Orson Welles

Bathhurst Mansions on 458 Holloway Road is an uncommonly pretty building. The ground floor's been turned into drab tat, but look up and (thanks to @RonnieCruwys of there's all this: 

There's also a story about Irish theatre, queer history and Orson Welles. Here goes:

Hilton Edwards was born in Bathhurst Mansions on 2 February 1903. He'd grow up to direct Welles in his first and last role on stage and (with Micheál Mac Liammóir born Alfred Willmore in Kilburn - see his one-man 'Wilde' here) to live something damn close to an openly gay life in Ireland, 

From  THE TRINITY NEWS (a Dublin University Weekly)  March 10, 1960
CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT -- Gaiety Theatre
Few men of the present day theatre have sought so consistently to throw off the shackles of conventional drama as Hilton Edwards and Orson Welles have done. The combination of their talents promised an exciting evening's theatre--a promise which was richly fulfilled. In Chimes at Midnight, each part of Shakespeare's Henry IV has been cut to about a third of its length, and the two have then been skilfully welded into a coherent narrative by the introducton of a spoken commentary taken from Holinshed's Chronicles.
In the original, Falstaff's part in the action is almost incidental, but in this adaptation it is his relationship with young Hal, and the latter's relationship with his father, which are the main themes. The martial and political events of Shakespeare's two plays are very lightly passed over in this adaptation; Hotspur, for example, is given no time to develop as a character. A great deal of expendable Shakespearian material has been cut; the aim is to give a stirring impression of swift-moving events. The one weakness in the play lies in the ending, where Prince Hal's contemptuous  dismissal of Falstaff seems to point too narrow a moral. Kingly duty, for all its sanctity, seems to be a hollow thing when pitted against Falstaff's lovable vitality. It is true that the defect is present in Shakespeare's original, but it was intensified in the adaptation by the fact that the martial and patriotic aspects of the story received so little emphasis.
With this malleable material at his disposal, Hilton Edwards had ample scope for the demonstration of his fluid conception of the drama. The stage, which had several levels was left bare, although occasional use was made of representational pieces of scenery which served merely to suggest the setting. An army in progress was represented by a roll of drums and a man in armour carrying a banner. The deliberate avoidance of naturalistic effect had the result of vividly stimulating the imagination of the audience, and of imparting an extraordinary pace and panache to the production.
The acting varies from the mediocre to the brilliant. Orson Welles fills the stage with his immense bulk and his hugely whiskered face, and the theatre with his resonant vice and powerful dramatic presence. he captured the boastfulness, the mock hyprocrisy, the lovableness and the cowardice of the Fat Knight. yet there seemed to be something lacking. Perhaps the actor was tired after after the afternoon matinee, but Welles failed to put across the immense vigor of Falstaff. This lethargy extended even to his verse-speaking; his throwaway technique was engaging, but one quickly felt a lack of variation.
Keith Baxter as young Hal gave a performance of great dash and energy which was slightly marred by a lack of smoothness in his diction Reginald Jarman was superb as the King; he gave just the right impression of tortured strength, and he spoke the verse with noble authority. In smaller roles Patrick Bedford was a lively Poins, and Shirley Cameron conveyed admirably the earthy pathos in the character of Doll Tearsheet.
This is a memorable production, in which one partcular moment and one scene stand out. The moment is the sudden, shattering pathos which Welles brings to Falstaff's simple statement to Doll: "I'm old," and the scene, that in which whcih we see the dying King, alone and helpless, with only his crown beside him, in the huge emptiness of the stage.
B. R. R. A.