The Readiness is all.RSC’s Hamlet, July 28 2008.Stratord Upon Avon.

Hamlet is my favourite play by Shakespeare. I have as yet been unable to work out why. I think it has something to do with the human condition, something of the inexplicable beauty and cruelty twinned in what makes us who we are; damaged, fragile, and magnificent. Three qualities that were amply demonstrated in the current production of Hamlet at Stratford.

Now over the last weekend my excitement level was pretty high. Perhaps I should explain:

vid Tennant. Standing in the queue of the café I was asked by an Australian lady who David Tennant was. So for anyone who does not know (I guess maybe outside the UK) David Tennant currently stars in a national treasure of a TV show. He is not only a talented actor but also pleasingly easy on the eye. Legend.

2 Patrick Stewart. Legend.

3.Penny Downie. Legend.

4.Oliver Ford-Davies. Legend.

Need I continue? OK… John Woodvine, one of those statuesque actors who is able to convey much with little. Directed by Greory Doran- legend! Oh yes and
Mariah Gale who had acted with much aplomb in The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra a couple of years back.

So with this all in my mind, I was more than buzzed for the performance; and I was not disappointed. I sat down very enthusiastically in the front row (another point which was pretty exciting) and could see myself in the mirrored backdrop of the stage.

So what of the play? It was a modern costumed piece, filled with light and shadow. The opening scene was lit only by the torch beams of he guards, as they bounced off the rear walls and the polished floor. This created a tension and edginess which set the tone.

Tennant's Hamlet was poised and thoughtful on his first appearance, disintegrating into a fetal ball when left alone. He kept to the rear of the stage and so his face could only be seen in a fractured, shadowy world. Lovely. As his disintegrating self became suitably manic and physical he began to inhabit the
rest of the stage, running and leaping about, possessing it in a frantic way quite different from his stillness of the opening scene. It was a bravura performance, and one I look forward to seeing developed throughout the run.

Stewart’s Claudius conveyed a true sense of the politician. All his machinations seemed weighed with the combined interests of state and self. His only genuine moments of emotion were around Gertrude, and one came away with the sense perhaps his passion for Gertrude had motivated his fratricide, although as circumstances combined even this started to become strained. When Hamlet finally gave Claudius the poisoned drink it was almost as if he accepted the terms of his loss. Raising his glass he tips it at Hamlet and gulped it down. Rather a noble end to the damned incestuous villain of Denmark.

Downie was superb as Gertrude, gradually torn through by her son’s affliction and his inward turning rage directed instead at her. The closet scene beautifully presented this, with Downie’s Gertrude letting out visceral sobs as she is left by her tormented son. There was some reconciliation between the two as Hamlet, childlike, laid his head against his mother’s knees, and she cradles him. It managed to side step any Oedipal allusions and presented a rather heart breaking portrayal of a mother and son tragically torn apart.

Ford Davies’ Polonius was a fusty, dusty old windbag, delightfully rambling on. At one stage I just bit my tongue before saying ‘oh do be quiet’. He was an avuncular old counsellor for whom Stewart’s Claudius seemed to regard with genuine affection. Though at times seeming wildly unaware of his daughter's feelings, his kindliness did go someway to explaining Ophelia’s grapple with sanity.

Gale was a splendid Ophelia. As a character that can often come across as, lets face it a bit of a duvet, Gale managed to imbue her portrayal with strength and nobility. Thus her descent into the dark quarry of despair was all the more affecting.

It was easy to pick out individual actors who were excellent but in the best of ensemble casting this was a strong piece all round, with the entire cast giving
fine performances. This I think was shown in the speed of the play. Even cut, it usually comes it at a good three and a half hours, and the time really did fly by. From the dark opening, to the brilliantly placed interval (Just as Hamlet raises the dagger above Claudius with the words ‘now I’ll do it’- as you ask) to the final moment as Fortinbras blunders into the quiet of the deadened court.

This was a superb production and one I look forward to seeing again.

The rest, they say, is silence.


Anonymous said…
I am truly impressed that someone managed to get tickets for this without knowing who Tennant was! I am very glad that you thought this was so good (I trust your judgement in these matters...) as I have heard slightly mixed things about Tennant's performance (not that he was bad, just that he wasn't superb) but all reviews that I've seen agree that the production should develop very well. Can't wait to see you in a few weeks and the play in December!
Jules said…
Many thanks oh Fubarite one!

We will all learn to love the Tennant!

But having my judgement trusted feels like quite a weighty responsibility.


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