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Hamlet Review - The Ex-Communicator

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September 18th, 2008


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02:48 pm - Hamlet Review
As you can tell from my raving yesterday I had a brilliant time at Hamlet last night. I sort of worship Hamlet in any case, in any production.

Tennant was, as you would expect, very physical and lively. He gave the impression that he and Horatio were miles more intelligent than everyone else, but at the same time he did a lot of that hopping on one leg waving his foot about and holding himself over the grave with one arm and so on. I have no problem with that sort of thing, and he externalised a lot of what was going on inside which I like anyway. It was all very clear, very obvious, and this ties in a bit with what I was taking about yesterday about emphasising the meaning. I suppose this makes it a performance suitable for a young audience, coming to the play for the first time. But I don't think that takes anything away from a person who has been watching it for years.

I like Hamlet to be shared and experienced communally, and this performance brought it right up to people as a ritual in which we all participated, because it was transparent and obvious. I want everyone in the theatre to get it, because it is so important and good. It's like Look - look at this.

So for instance when Horatio says to Hamlet 'You will be dead in half an hour' Tennant's face is like - like you would feel if someone said that to you. Not 'this is the death scene in this famous play' and not sort of bug-eyed tragedy.

There were a lot of good performances. Oliver Ford Davies in particular was outstanding as Polonius, but they all were to be honest. R&K were a couple of twits out of their depth. Ophelia was a daft galumphing girl, as absurdly expressive as Hamlet, so you could see how they were probably very bad for each other.

I am tempted to tell you the things that weren't quite right about this production to show that my critical faculties haven't entirely left me. I thought Patrick Stewart made an appropriately nasty selfish Claudius but his final scene wasn't quite right, and I thought David Tennant started a bit slow. He was stunned, face frozen, sleepwalking until Horatio turned up. I know this was intentional but it had me feeling for the first twenty minutes that it was merely an OK performance. I wonder whether the quality may be a little uneven as other reviews I have read have been much more critical. Anyway, all of these points are almost completely irrelevant to the experience I had.

A couple of other thoughts. One is that Hamlet is a bit like Alien for me. The beginning of Alien where you are walking through the Nostromo, and it's all cold and grey, and everyone is asleep, and soon they will wake up and all will be killed. Elsinore exists outside of normal time as somewhere we can all go to.

And then finally, being entirely superficial, when Claudius interrogates Hamlet to find out where he has left the dead body, Tennant was tied to a chair and gagged. But a soldier stood in the way so I couldn't see properly! I wish I could get another ticket and go and see it all again.

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[User Picture]
From:azalaisdep
Date:November 1st, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
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It was all very clear, very obvious

This seems to be a real thread in everyone's experience of this production - as altariel said, that's what the lady at the booking office said to us as we picked our tickets up; her son and daughter-in-law, who'd never been to see Shakespeare in their lives, came and loved it and had no problem at all following it.

I certainly had moments where the lightbulb went on and things that I'd either never understood, or just never really noticed the significance of, in any of the previous times I'd seen it fell into place for me.

I wonder if this has anything to do with something mentioned in the programme notes and also in cast member Keith Osborn's blog about part of their rehearsal process:

"For the most of the rest of the week we have been carefully unpicking the play and making sure we all know what we're on about in the simplest possible terms. We go through Hamlet reading each scene in short sections, the readers then have to put Shakespeare's language into their own words... The rules of the game are that no one is allowed to read or comment on their own role, this means that there is a shared sense of ownership of the ideas in the production, everyone having the opportunity to contribute to a collective understanding of the play regardless of the size of their role."

Incidentally, Keith's blog (seems to hop about on the RSC Web site but recent posts are here) is good value - lots of insights into the rehearsal process for both Hamlet and LLL as well as into the trials and tribulations of daily life in the RSC!

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