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LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ONE AUDIENCE MEMBER'S HAMLET EXPERIENCE

The following is a post by Sue Holt at FlickFilosopher.com. MaryAnn Johanson has a great site! I highly recommend it!

After a tense opening scene where Stewart appeared as the Ghost, Tennant made his big entrance. He strode away from the party goers to the front of the stage. Dressed in a modern suit which hung loosely on his spare frame, he stood, glass in hand, looking desperately unhappy. Just as the players were watching his every move, nervous about his reaction to Gertrude's wedding, so were we the audience waiting for his first words. He spoke in an upper class English accent which softened as the play progressed. Hamlet is being very priggish at this stage, so Tennant's accent was more Reverend Gibson from He Knew He Was Right than The Doctor. By standing and behaving a little awkwardly, he managed to seem very young. That feeling is emphasised when, left alone he crouches to the floor and snivels unhappily.

We were in more familiar territory in the ghost scene, where we saw many of the hallmarks of Tennant's acting. His wide-eyed fear, his rapid speech, the speed at which he raced about the stage and the ease with which he switches between sanity, madness and humour. It was mesmerising. Poor Peter de Jersey's Horatio doesn't stand a chance. All eyes are fixed on Hamlet.

The next time he appears, he is wearing jeans, turned up at the ankle, no shoes and a red t shirt which has a black image of a muscular chest. Again, by reducing his height in relation to the other actors and by having him dressed so informally, his boyishness is emphasised. He changed into a tux for the play within a play scene - but again goes barefoot. This added to the feeling of intimacy in the bedroom scene. He also uses his hair to good effect. From the formal combed back style of his opening scene, he constantly ruffles it to emphasise rage and despair and at one point manages to make it stand up on end completely to feign madness. Hamlet's soliloquy's are delivered centre stage, to the whole audience and with real emotion. Every word is clear and sure. Even in these preview shows, Tennant rarely stumbles on a line. The well known speeches do not seem trite. They are just dealt with in a very real way without over-emphasis. Sometimes we see flashes of The Doctor, as when he draws up to the King's face and roars back at him, using Stewart's accent and tone. There was a ripple of appreciation from the audience. Always there is his brilliant comic timing. There was an hilarious sequence where he is tied to a chair for questioning over the whereabouts of Polonius's corpse. Barely able to move, his head darts about, still dominating the scene before willing the chair towards the exit and 'For England'. His facial muscles are constantly exercised - at one point he crosses his eyes to great comic effect. All of Hamlet's characteristics are beautifully portrayed. His loneliness and sense of loss, his feelings of betrayal, his defensiveness when he thinks Ophelia has rejected him, his insight into the machinations of the court. To the brilliantly contrived sword fight and death scene, it really was hard to take your eyes off this remarkable actor.

So what of the others? Oliver Ford Davies's Polonius was a real treasure. By delivering his lines as a loveable, forgetful, if rather wordy, old man, he was not only very funny, but created a character whom the audience could genuinely grieve for. Patrick Stewart was a little restrained. Perhaps this was in contrast to Tennant, but he really needs to warm up a bit. Mariah Gale was lovely as Ophelia - all frail and vulnerable and Pennie Downie played a cool Gertrude. I'm sorry to dismiss them all so easily - but it really was all about Tennant.

My daughter commented that she felt privileged to have been there as she was sure we were witnessing one of the great Hamlets. I just hope the critcs don't decide to maul it simply because it is popular. The audience rose to a man in standing ovation on the first night - and they weren't just Dr Who fans. They were mostly regular RSC members taking advantage of cheap seats and priority booking. For me the test of a great Shakespearean performance is one that brings the play alive without any previous study or knowledge of the plot. This certainly does that. Fantastic!


In another post Sue writes:
At the performance I sat behind a group of young women who were clearly very excited about getting so close to Mr Tennant. Indeed at one point, he sat right next to us. Even then they managed to contain themselves and they got completely absorbed by the play. At the end of the play there was plenty of cheering - and rightly so - those actors had worke their socks off (literally in Tennant's case) and they were really out of breath. Mr Tennant seemed delighted by this reaction and gave the girls a special grin before rushing off into the arms of his security people.

I'm vicariously enjoying Hamlet through Sue's wonderful posts. OMG! I WISH I COULD SEE IT FOR REAL!!!

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