Falstaff: Flying, laundry & chess (Henry Waddington & Yvonne Howard)

Falstaff: Flying, laundry & chess (Henry Waddington & Yvonne Howard)


My name is Henry Waddington and I’m
singing Sir John Falstaff. The process of learning the role
started about a year ago. I always start from the text: it’s
the most important thing for me, so I start to learn the text, start to
translate the text, then learn the notes on top of that, try and marry them
together, and then the the horrible process is trying to memorise everything
before we get to rehearsals! We spent six weeks having a bit of a laugh
in a little room in South London going through, scene by scene, working out what
we’d be doing, how we’d be doing it and the stunts and everything else
that goes into putting the opera on. A few months ago the choreographer Tim
Claydon, who’s actually a very old friend rang me and said:
“How would you feel about flying?” Unfortunately he didn’t mean on a plane
to some Caribbean island he actually meant on a little wire
hanging over the stage at Garsington! so I said yes at the time, I don’t know
if I’m going to regret that..! I’m Yvonne Howard and I am singing
Mistress Quickly in Falstaff at Garsington! When you’re working
with a lot of friends, very old friends in some cases, people
I’ve known 20-30 years, you know each other’s little weak spots,
so you know how to make someone else corpse, they know how to make you corpse, so there are just times when you have to
aim at a forehead, not the eyes, because you just see a corner
of a mouth go and you think “No, help..!” Musically this has just been second
to none, with Richard Farnes being in the pit has just been an absolute joy
from day one. He’s so calm and so kind. Very, very clear about the ideas that
he wants to shine through in the music and very clear in showing that from
the pit. The Philharmonia is just wonderful to sing with,
you feel so supported. Bruno and I made a decision about Sir
John very early on in the process that he had to be ‘real’. He is a comic
character but he has to be a real character, otherwise it’s just not funny.
I’m a huge fan of all the old 70s and 80s sitcoms, when you have great
actors like Ronnie Barker who do these wonderful characters but they’re
not caricatures, they’re all real people that you can actually believe in, and
that’s where I wanted to come from. So actually the journey I do as Sir John
throughout the evening, to me as an actor is very real and quite a lot of it isn’t
funny to me, but it comes across thankfully as funny to the audience! There’s a wonderful scene in the opera
where we have to get Falstaff, who is wearing a fat suit — and he’s not a small
person anyway: he’s very tall long-legged — and he’s wearing this huge fat suit, and
we have to squish him into a box, but so he can get himself into a position where
he can still peep out and see the conductor. Richard Farnes is amazing,
he gives a very clear beat, but it’s a challenge and we have to get
the right amount of laundry under him the right amount of laundry over him and
it all has to happen very time specifically, because otherwise he’ll be
seen by Alice’s husband Ford. So that’s been a technical challenge
but also great fun! There’s a little boy actor, Ansh, who plays
my page throughout the whole evening, and there’s of conspiratorial
action between the two of us in the first act we’re playing chess
throughout the whole scene, and when he arrived first in the rehearsals,
I haven’t played chess since school days, I can just about remember which piece
moves where, and how it moves, so I set up the chess pieces that
I thought would be quite good, and he said “That’s just
impossible, you can’t have it like that!” So he ended up moving everything around!
Me being older and more forgetful, I’ll forget to do something
and I’ll look at him at a different point, rather than how we set it.
He picks it up straight away and we’ll just go with it
Very, very good!

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