Since The History Boys, Parker has appeared on stage in The Revenger’s Tragedy, Singer and, as part of the Globe’s 2009 season, As You Like It and Trevor Griffiths’ new play A New World. His other credits include After the Dance, My Zinc Bed, The Gondoliers, Holes in the Skin, Coffee House and Between the Crosses on stage; Valkyrie on film; and Imagine: Van Gogh, As If, Maxwell, Alexander Hamilton, Silent Witness, Burn Up, Wire in the Blood, Foyle's War and Horne and Corden on television.
PAST: We were doing The History Boys for over two-and-a-half years. When we were in the middle of it, though, we didn’t really have a perspective on what effect, if any, it was causing outside – we were just having an awful lot of fun. We were all given parts that were essentially stuff we were good at. I got to talk about Proust and play the piano, Dominic Cooper got to be terribly broody and James Corden was very funny. There were days, especially in the classroom scenes, where I didn’t have much to say so I just got to sit back and watch Richard (Griffiths) or somebody else being brilliant, and I’d think, “I have the best seat in the theatre and I am getting paid to sit here and watch this. Fantastic!”
We went all the way round the world with it. The first night and the last night were probably the biggest highlights for me. The first because – and I’m not the first one to have said this – when we were in rehearsal, we were all quite unsure of it. We didn’t know what the play was because the script had come in bits and the themes had been changed from a lot of raw material into something that vaguely resembled a play. So at the first preview, we didn’t really think we were going to be in for a long ride. Two-and-a-half years later closing on Broadway was mental, absolutely nuts! They brought the house lights up because the applause went on and on until Richard made a speech.
After that, we ran straight from the stage door to the airport, landed in London, went straight from the airport to the hotel, got changed and went on the red carpet at Leicester Square to watch the film. We had literally gone from the last performance on stage to the movie premiere. We were all completely jetlagged out of our minds and watching performances that were already nine months ago, because we had filmed it so long before carrying on doing the play. It was a whirlwind.
The History Boys tends to hit schoolkids particularly hard. It’s even on the syllabus now I think. I went to a school a few months ago. They were doing a production of it and seemed to get a real kick out of it, which is brilliant because you don’t necessarily expect that with what’s ultimately a grand debate about wisdom versus knowledge.
PRESENT: Until last year, which was the first time I performed at the Globe, I had done very little Shakespeare since college, in fact very little classics except for The Revenger’s Tragedy at the National. Last year’s experience completely turned me around on the whole idea of audiences sitting in an auditorium in the dark and actors up there on stage beneath the lighting. It’s completely terrifying being exposed on the Globe stage, but once you get a taste for it, you kind of don’t want to do Shakespeare in any other way again. The atmosphere is really unlike anywhere else. This is the first time that the Globe has staged Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 - Mark Rylance left precious few of the really big treats, he tackled a lot of them himself, fair enough! – so it’s a real thrill knowing that it’s the first crack at it here.
These plays are a real panorama and Prince Hal is a great part – I actually used one of his speeches for my college audition – because he has a foot in every single camp, from having fun in the pub to these terribly serious, big battles and all the famous, long speeches in the second part. There’s a lot of variation in it.
The relationship between Hal and Falstaff is key and we have a terrific Falstaff in Roger Allam. I’d never met him before this, though I’ve been a fan of his since I started paying attention to theatre. The first read-through was interesting! There were moments when I’d think, “my god these lines are so famous and that’s Roger Allam saying them!” Roger can shine a light in every single last corner of the text. The role of Falstaff is full of reams and reams of prose, a lot of which does feel really obscure. But when you have someone as experienced as Roger, he can somehow manage to make these really passages just jump off the page so that they’re actually quite funny and surprising, rather than being just a bunch of fat gags.
That’s something I noticed last year with Dominic Rowan, who played Touchstone in As You Like It. It’s a real object lesson watching actors like that, wondering, “what are they going to do with that?” It’s something to do with their rhythm and delivery, they have brains that work very fast, and a high acumen for this kind of material. It’s infectious and it takes everybody else with them. Roger is sensational as Falstaff, he’s all over it. And there’s also William Gaunt and Oliver Cotton in the cast, some more truly great veterans; they are gold dust.
FUTURE: I have no idea what I’ll be doing after the Globe. I’ve got my eye on a couple of things, but I can’t say as I haven’t got any definite news yet. It’s no accident that I spend most of my time doing theatre. Talking about the other History Boys, a lot of them grew up on TV and they now seem to have spent most of their time since the play in front of a camera. I grew up learning about theatre and, proportionally, that’s what I always have done more of. The screen bits that I’ve done have been quite exciting and fun and everything, but they were kind of surreal and haven’t necessarily had a big impact for me. For instance, Valkyrie, the film I did with Tom Cruise, actually had very little ripple effect because everything I have done before and since then has been more or less the stuff I was doing anyway. Of course, that’s because it’s the stuff I love doing so I am lucky that I get to do it!
There are many great stage roles I’d love to tackle at some point. I can’t help thinking now about the sequel for this play. One of the big cherries is getting to do Henry V. It’s vastly tempting when you’re doing these scenes to think, “Can’t we just keep going?” A lot of the other roles I really want to do are about 15 years away for me. That’s a bit frustrating, but in the meantime, I am quite happy playing Prince Hal.
Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, directed by artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, open on 14 July 2010 (previews from 6 June and 3 July, respectively) at Shakespeare’s Globe, where they continue in rep until 3 October.