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Once more unto the breach
8:30am Thursday 3rd May 2012 in Theatre/Art
Jamie Parker’s wife went into labour on opening night of his last play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Her waters broke during the previews in the West End and he had to carry on regardless. Luckily she didn’t actually give birth until three days later, so his understudy got an early break.
Perhaps it was at that moment, when Jamie was alerted to the natal developments during the interval, that he knew his life would change, because the 32-year-old says everything seems terribly mature all of a sudden.
This is largely down to his new role as Henry V in The Globe’s touring production coming to Oxford’s Playhouse. And having played Henry IV in parts one and two, it was a role he wanted more than life itself. How he managed to refrain from asking the director outright for the part, and instead bided his time, nobody knows, least of all Jamie. “I’m a firm believer that things happen at the right time for the right reason,” he says, “but how I didn’t cling to his knees and beg I don’t know, because Henry V was definitely something I needed to get out of my system.”
Now being rewarded for his patience, Jamie is loving every minute as Shakespeare’s most victorious king, but admits he misses the tomfoolery of his Henry IV days. “I was just a prince-in-waiting then, mucking about with Falstaff and I have very much felt his absence,” Jamie smiles. “Becoming the figure I looked up to, and finding yourself as a father, is very similar. But that’s part of the deal.
“Everyone else works hard and comes home to their families too and I’m very lucky I’m being fed from all angles.“ As for touring the country’s theatres rather than performing ‘in the round’ at London’s Globe, Jamie says there is an element of comfort and reassurance, and a sort of protection about being on stage.
“The Globe is a very truthful place which can be great or quite demoralising,” he chuckles.
“So it’s strange doing Shakespeare in a modern theatre, so this is a way of fine tuning it. Besides, you can talk to people in the audience without them throwing fruit at you,” he laughs, although unlikely if any of you saw him either in The History Boys, Alan Bennett’s globally successful film and the accompanying play, or as Henry IV.
So did Jamie realise how significant The History Boys would be or how talented the cast was, at the time?
“They were certainly eight very distinct silhouettes and we all complimented each other,” he says. “And the play sold out before we’d even started the rehearsals. But we had no idea it would run for two-and-a-half years, get made into a film or take us around the world. And it did open to a wall of noise which is when we knew that something had clicked.”
Having got his first break in 2002 at The Playhouse in Oxford Theatre Company’s After The Dance, Jamie is delighted to be back. “Those were early steps,” he accedes.
But then acting was always something Jamie had to fight for, from day one. “I went to a school near Edinburgh where drama wasn’t really acceptable. There were a handful of us who used to put on our own productions because drama wasn’t considered a ‘proper’ thing to do. So I was always swimming against the current and my tenacity paid off, which is something you need to keep going in this job — it took me three years just to get a place at RADA.
“But it’s a funny old industry because things always happen at the same time, so you’ll be twiddling your thumbs and then suddenly be expected to get from 0-60mph in a week, pack your bags and leave home for six weeks on the trot. But I haven’t been on tour for 10 years so it’s going to be fun.”
Fun, yes, but hard work as well because the monologues in Henry V are legendary. So where does he find the stamina to launch himself into them every night? “You just have to keep the pilot light on because it’s an athletic play and uses up all your emotions — mentally, physically and emotionally, and that is difficult,” he admits. “So you can’t just turn up and do the show or it will drown you.
“You have to make yourself available, and surrender to it, and by the time you get to the end you feel buoyed up. But it’s such an exciting play, and part, that it just gives me a real buzz. And then when I do get home to London there are lots of sparks there too so I am very lucky.” A mature man indeed.
The Globe presents William Shakespeare’s Henry V at the Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday to Saturday. Call the box office on 01865 305305 or book at www.oxford playhouse.com.