“I have heard the ‘Chimes at Midnight’ – Orson Welles plays Falstaff in his final theatrical performance on the Dublin stage in 1960
By LAWRENCE FRENCH
Orson Welles began his career as a stage actor at the Gate Theatre, in Dublin, Ireland on October 13, 1931. At the time Herbert Hoover was the President of The United States of America.
Orson Welles ended his career as a stage actor at the Gaiety Theate, in Dublin, Ireland in March, 1960. At the time John Kennedy (an Irishman) was President of The United States of America.
Since I've always considered Orson Welles Falstaff (the movie) to be his greatest cinematic acheivement, I've often wondered why his ghost staging of Chimes at Midnight in Dublin in 1960 has been so ignored in most Welles biographies. For instance, I have never seen a cast listing of the Dublin production, or even realized that Hilton Edwards was the credited director of the play. Now, thanks to a new documentary on Welles in Ireland, we have a lot of material on Welles final appearance as an actor on the stage.
Unfortunately, the documentary presumes Welles career went dramatic downhill after his last stage appearance in Dublin. Of corse, nothing could be further from the truth. Welles greatest film, Falstaff, was not widely seen in cinemas until 1967. Like the stage version of Chimes at Midnight, the film version was clearly a great big "Flop" at the box office, just as Citizen Kane was in 1941. But Falstaff was also quite clearly a cinematic masterpiece, and it was the film Welles himself felt was his "testament." I find it quite idiotic that the makers of the documentary would spend so much time on Welles "commercial work" rather than even mentioning his film version of Falstaff. In my view, it is sheer stupidity, and I daresay my friend Simon Callow might also may want to have his name taken off of this documentary, for he was obviously quoted out of context.
I certainly don't object to the facts, for instance saying that Chimes at Midnight was a flop, which clearly it was, Financially. But what Welles's film's have ever been successful?
It's like saying, "well yes, Van Gogh made some great paintings, but why the hell did he not become successful?"
Are you kidding me? Who could anyone who knows anything about ORSON WELLES be so stupid!!
That is why THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND will never be seen.
Now obviously everyone has their own unique opinions on what they feel are the greatest films of all time, but when you think of Orson Welles directing a series of five plays by Shakespeare, one has to wonder how anyone can think that Citizen Kane could possibly be a better film than Falstaff. I guess it is because Welles had the great Herman M. as his co-writer, rather than that hack writer, Mr. W. Shakespeare.
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.
CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT - Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
Being the adventures of the Fat Knight and the Prince of Wales
from the historical plays of William Shakespeare
The Court of King Henry the Fourth
King Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke) Reginald Jarman
Hal, Prince of Wales (later King Henry V) Keith Baxter
Prince John of Lancaster Peter Bartlett
Earl of Westmoreland Stuart Nichol
Lord Chief Justice Terence Greenidge
Gower Alan Mason
Page to Gower John Southarn
The Boar's-Head Tavern in Eastcheap
Sir John Falstaff Orson Welles
Doll Tearsheet Shirley Cameron
Mistress Quickly Thelma Ruby
Justice Robert Shallow Keith Marsh
Master Silence Aubrey Morris
Ned Poins Patrick Bedford
Pistol Rory Macdermott
Bardolf Leonard Fenton
Peto Peter Bartlett
Nym Henry Woolf
Sheriff Fang Rory Macdermott
Francis, a Drawer Lee Harris
Rebel Forces Loyal to Edmund Mortimer
Harry Percy (known as Hotspur) Alexis Kanner
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester Aubrey Morris
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland Terence Greenidge
Chorus Rory Macdermott
Opened March 1, 1960 at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
(Previewed at the Grand Opera House in Belfast)