David Tennant in Hamlet at the RSC
by PHILIP HOLYMAN - Monday, July 21, 2008
The news that David Tennant would be putting his Tardis into the long-stay car park in order to play Hamlet for the RSC was last year's worst-kept secret in showbusiness.
The production's four-month Stratford run sold out in short order, and its recently announced Christmas residency in London is already doing brisk business among RSC members before the inevitable stampede when public booking opens on September 12.
'I don't know why, but I've always been very wary of Hamlet,' confides director Gregory Doran, the former RSC actor who has risen through the ranks to become the company's chief associate director. 'I've never done the play, never been in it or been part of it. I've seen it many times, of course, but I've never somehow been able to think of doing it myself. I started looking at it and I realised that this play is so revered and so familiar, yet that there was no such thing as a definitive Hamlet.'
Tennant's astronomic profile has at least meant that Doran has been freed from the pressure of having to promote his show too strenuously. Nevertheless, the actor's very presence drew unexpected fire recently from director Jonathan Miller, whose well-received but distinctly unstarry Hamlet at Bristol's Tobacco Factory failed to secure that elusive West End transfer.
'If David Tennant couldn't hack it as Hamlet, there would be no point in casting him as Hamlet,' says a defiant Doran.
'I was sorry [Miller] said all that, because David made his career at the RSC and he's a genuinely terrific classical actor who also happens to have enjoyed success and celebrity in another medium.'
It is, in fact, another of Tennant's TV appearances that helped get Hamlet up and running. 'I'd worked with David some years before,' Doran says, 'and I saw him on [the BBC's] Who Do You Think You Are? and there he was in a church, holding a skull, in this graveyard, so I texted him and said: "I saw your Hamlet audition."
'We got back in touch and I said: "Have you ever thought of coming back to Stratford or are you locked in Doctor Who-land for ever?" He said he would really like to come back to Stratford, and the play he wanted to do was Hamlet.'
Has Doran tailored his production to allow for the fact that a large proportion of the audience is likely to consist of young Whovians and their press-ganged parents?
'This isn't going to be a four-and-a-half-hour Hamlet,' Doran says. 'I want it to be accessible for the audience. I direct it for the first-time viewer who is fresh to the play. I don't think the way to allow people to get to know the extraordinary language and the extraordinary experience of these plays is by dumbing them down. If there are people coming to Shakespeare for the first time because of David, well, great. As a Shakespeare company, that's our business I think.'
Thu to Nov 15, The Courtyard Theatre, Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, this week: Thu to Sat 7.15pm, £5 to £38, concs available, sold out, returns only. Tel: 0844 800 1110. www.rsc.org.uk
I remember thinking about how great it would be if David would play Hamlet when I watched him holding the skull in 'Who Do You Think You Are?'.