Theatre: 14- to 18-year-old category
Winner: Tilly Spencer, 17
guardian.co.uk, Monday October 13 2008 09.16 BST
Hamlet: Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon
The set for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet was a perfect metaphor for the atmosphere of the play: the two-way mirrors and reflective surfaces of the walls and floor gave a feeling of suspicion and constant surveillance. The opening scene in which the spirit of Hamlet's father appears to the guards and Horatio was truly eerie, the darkness on stage broken only by torchlight and some rather worrying overacting on Barnardo's part.
There has been disagreement over the repositioning of the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Initially, I agreed with those who had described it as disjointed and misplaced before the entrance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (as in the First Quarto version of the play), but when I read director Gregory Doran's notes on the change and reread the play with this in mind, it seems much more logical to have it after we have seen Hamlet's initial madness and heard of his deranged state from Ophelia.
David Tennant's Hamlet is funny and full of the maniacal energy that has become synonymous with Tennant's performances. His interpretation reinvigorated the well-known speeches: the familiar lines felt different, as though, like Hamlet himself, the audience was hearing the words for the first time. When his father's spirit appears to him in act one, all the composure he displayed in his first appearance is gone, and his transformation from dignified Prince of Denmark to the lost and distraught child pleading with his father not to leave him was absolutely believable and deeply moving.
Patrick Stewart's performance as Claudius was excellent; but the real surprise was Mariah Gale as Ophelia. In her scene with Claudius and Gertrude after her father has been killed, she is the personification of maddened grief. Although the physical acting was that of a toddler throwing a tantrum in a supermarket – running, stamping, screeching and jumping up and down – she captivated the audience's attention, and made this behaviour seem rational: a product of her bereavement, and so poignant rather than funny, as it would have been in a lesser actor's hands.
Overall, it was an incredible production – well deserving of the standing ovation it received.
It's interesting to read a teenager's perspective on David's Hamlet. The fact that these younger people have been interested in seeing a play by Shakespeare speaks volumes about how popular David really is.