Hamlet is one of those plays that you know is marvellous, but you also know is long. We haven’t seen it that often ‘in the flesh’ but we have DVDs with Kenneth Branagh, Maxine Peake and David Tennant. For some reason my wife chose the latter.
It is the RSC production from 2009, and the actors had obviously played it on stage many, many times before it was filmed. Yet this is so fresh – almost as if they are playing it for the first time. Elsinore is somewhere in central Europe, the clothes are modern, and some of the action is watched through CCTV. Very cleverly done. There is one scene where the floor is almost a mirror, and you watch from an angle you don’t expect, but it is stunning. There is a very good write-up about the production on the RSC website – https://www.rsc.org.uk/hamlet/past-productions/in-focus-gregory-doran-2008 – I have enjoyed reading the diary of Gregory Doran, the producer.
Tennant has so much energy. One review says “Tennant brings out the bitter wit, the conceits and the wordplay like nobody else; he’s the Hawkeye Pierce of Hamlets, mercurial, brilliant and unbalanced, and intelligent enough to have thought up all those incredible speeches – so many actors sound like they’re quoting something they don’t actually understand.” I find that part of the trouble with Hamlet is that it has so many quotes, I get side-tracked by which quote is next. There are times when he brings out the humour, though the pain is only just below the surface.
Patrick Stewart plays Claudius and Penny Downie is Gertrude. That is a fascinating relationship, and you wonder what sort of relationship she had with Hamlet’s dad. Mariah Gale is Ophelia – such a sad ending. I had forgotten how many skulls there are in the graveyard scene, and that the gravedigger is also a Clown. Mark Hadfield plays him. In my job I often have a chat with the gravedigger, wonderful people.
There was no point when you thought “get on with it”, which is sometimes the reaction I have. We did have an ice cream break at one point – the only time I get exciting ice cream is in the theatre! (There is a comment in the Doran blog about how they decided where to place the interval). I do wonder how an Elizabethan audience coped with a play that is so long. Did they stand silently and watch, did they gossip, did their attention wander? It was written between 1599 and 1601, and was one of Shakespeare’s favorite plays from the beginning.
I have not filled this with photos as I am struggling to find ones I am allowed to cut and paste. Look at the gallery on the RSC website, or watch the play yourself!