About a decade ago, I had my first experience of Hamlet, via Kenneth Branagh’s full-length sumptious cinematic adaptation in glorious 70mm. I remember at the time, thinking the following:
– blimey, 70mm is gorgeous
– I can’t follow everything that’s going on, but I can follow enough to get by
– how many phrases from the English language were plucked from this ?!
– If Ophelia isn’t the archetypal Doctor Who companion, I don’t know who is…
– Kate Winslet. She’d make a great companion (she wasn’t the all-conquering Titantic heroine she is now)
Fast-forward to this weekend, and we three (times two, making six) ended up voyaging from various corners of the UK (and one eBayer from Bermuda) to the twee country town of Stratford-upon-Avon to see a RSC production of Hamlet, with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart leading the cast.
After all the hassles of buying the tickets and getting there, getting into the play was one huge anti-climax. It was a relatively small venue in a quiet part of Stratford’s riverside, and we just showed the usher our tickets and entered a stunningly stark place, with mirrors acting as a theatre backdrop. No props, no set dressing, it was a real courtyard, with the actors entering and exiting the stage through corridors amongst the audience, and I loved the idea.
Unfortuanately, as the play progressed, they brought in a prop here, a set dressing there, until by the end the small space was festooned with props and things, which somewhat spoilt it. The ananachronism of it all – helicopters, guns, notepads, condoms – didn’t help either. Why use a gun to shoot someone when at the end you end up with a fencing fight?
I’m not too sure what I was expecting – probably epic acting histronics, but I didn’t really get the whole experience. It’s a production I think I admired more than I liked or loved – I certainly didn’t come out of it gabbling or loving it. One of my party left after thirty minutes, saying it was the worst production she’d seen. The rest of my party seemed to love it, although one of them was more star-struck than anything else.
Not being a Shakespearian acolyte, it was to be fair a little hard for me to seperate the actors from the production. For the Tennant fans, there was a fair amount of TimeLord/Tennant-esque dashing around the stage like an epileptic gazelle. Oh, and he wore alternatively a tuxedo, and then a student-esque T-shirt. He’s certainly a very very skinny fellow – I need his thyroids. He strangely lacked stage presence – there was one speech where I totally lost interest and had no idea what he was talking about, and he pretty much mumbled his way through To Be or Not To Be (oh baby can’t you see, we’re gonna make it to the toooooppppp) For the Stewart fans, despite looking a lot like Professor X, he seemed far more convincing and Shakespearian actorly than Tennant. Of course, afterwards there was a mad rush for autographs, although I elected to have a pint instead until other members of my party came back.
Since I haven’t been to the theatre in eons, I also forgot that theatre tends to bring out the maudlin and confused in me, mostly because there’s no filter between me and the actors, like you have in cinema and television. Then again, I love stand-up comedy, where there’s no filter at all. I’m still trying to process that particular thought, but then again: “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”