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Simm Hamlet - The Ex-Communicator

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September 26th, 2010

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07:22 am - Simm Hamlet
I went to the Sheffield Crucible with my sister on Friday evening, and then with matildabj on Saturday afternoon. That's just how it worked out. So in one 24-hour period I spent seven hours watching John Simm as Hamlet.

I thought - and I still think - that the Tennant Hamlet at the RSC was an all time great experience. This Hamlet was not a life-milestone like that. Though funnily enough, if I had to predict, I would say that Simm probably has a more significant career ahead of him. (ETA - no, I have no idea actually, they are both great)

I thought the second performance was more confident, and I think there is every chance it will warm up further. I might see if I can see another, late in the run. I think possibly the direction needs some adjustment. At the start Simm's voice seemed tense, his throat constricted. He has quite a deep voice, a lovely voice, but it was high and whiny. It may be a decision to make him seem immature and petulant, but 'Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt...' should be beautiful. Forget whether Hamlet's immature.

Then as the play progressed, he did settle into it. I didn't feel quite as sucked into the emotion as I did with Tennant. I felt I was watching rather than participating. But it was honest and intelligent. I thought Hamlet's relations with Ophelia and his mother were like the relations of a real man to real women, albeit overbearing. He came across to me as very much a feudal prince, despite it being in modern dress, as a man in a country defined by fighting and killing. A person with a point of view, and a political interest, rather than the moral centre of the play. But perhaps I can't really sum this up in a few lines. Whether that means it's incoherent or complex I can't say.

Claudius was played by John Nettles (Mr Midsomer Murders) and I felt he also was not quite properly directed. He rushed many of his speeches, as if he thought that people would get bored. If they were worried about that they should have cut the words back, and given them more space. Physically I thought he was good, though one of our companions didn't like his fidgety business. I thought it made him seem uncomfortable with power, but greedy for it, which is good.

Gertrude was Barbara Flynn (Mrs Cracker) - I thought she was good. Her words just seemed in every case to be the natural thing that she would say.

I don't know. John Simm is a good fit for this role, but I am worried that his own consciousness of what he ought to be able to do is stopping him from achieving it. Perhaps he should take the worries he has about what he is doing, and what he ought to be, and make them the content of the role itself. He was very warmly received by the audience, so that should help.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 08:00 am (UTC)
Tennnant is a very experienced stage actor, and Simm, as far as I know, hasn't done stage work for years, apart from Elling, so I can imagine he'd be nervous.

He came across to me as very much a feudal prince, despite it being in modern dress, as a man in a country defined by fighting and killing.

This was something I really missed in the RSC production. The fighting-and-killing bits sat really uneasily with the modern state presented there. I could easily imagine Patrick Stewart's Claudius sending people off to death camps, but not his brother taking on Old Fortinbras in hand-to-hand combat, or Claudius himself engaging in swinish drinking and loud singing with his men. It made me want to see a production that gives us exactly what you describe - a feudal prince in a violent, brutal state, with Hamlet himself as one of the very few more civilised characters. Ophelia tells us he can fight. In most productions it comes as bit of a surprise that this thinker is also pretty good at action, but really, that aspect of him should be clear from the start. He's not an egghead forced to fight, he's a soldier who's learned to think, trapped in a world of soldiers who haven't.

The Guardian review (and also the comments) was fulsome in its praise of Ophelia. Did she make a good impression you?
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 08:06 am (UTC)
Ophelia was very restrained. I think that's perhaps a relief to critics after so many over-the-top loopy performances.

Nettles did come across as fairly swinish and coarse. Though loving to Gertrude, as he should be. He was always doing up his trousers when interrupted.
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 08:11 am (UTC)
Ophelia's mad scenes must be a nightmare to act. I've never been able to get the slightest handle on them, and all that singing doesn't help.

He was always doing up his trousers when interrupted.

[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
If I might correct you, Communicator - John Simm not only performed the lead role in 'Elling' but last year also trod the boards in 'Speaking in Tongues'...

For anyone who can't imagine John taking on this role and who doesn't mind a little spoilering, here's a link to a clip: http://www.thestar.co.uk/video/Life-after-Mars-John-Simm.6537895.jp

I'll be going to see the play in early October and am very much looking forward to it. I've only seen David Tennant's version on DVD and really don't want to make comparisons, certainly not at this stage. But I did enjoy Tennant's version and wish I had seen it live.

Edited at 2010-09-26 06:26 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
I did manage to go see Speaking in Tongues - it was azdak who missed it. I really enjoyed his performance in that. I thought he seemed more relaxed and confident. But I am very pleased to see him stretch himself. I'll be interested how he is doing in a couple of weeks time.

Oh - I've just watched that clip. Very interesting, thanks. I'll post a link to it. It shows up the fighty warlike interpretation.

(having trouble with formatting, hope this works)

Edited at 2010-09-26 06:40 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for the review, including for the perspective that two performances gave you. It would be interesting to hear what you think if you do make it to another one later on....
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
I was a bit dismayed when my sister bought tickets for Friday when I was already due to go on Saturday. But I just had to go. I'm glad I did. I felt like I'd run a marathon after.

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