Yes, yes, we know it’s not the West End and that it’s Shakespeare, but it had to be done.
Done by Andrew, anyway. Phil refused to be dragged away from his metropolitan “lifestyle” (Let us hope that involved him doing something about the state of his fridge for there is surely something rotten in it) for a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.
Even now Phil insists that it is necessary to change trains to get there and refuses to listen to Andrew’s account of the contemporary transport arrangements. He utterly refutes Andrew’s report that there are no longer such things as third class carriages. Andrew has held his tongue.
Oh well, every dog has his day and so, it was that Sue K (Clarification: Andrew is the dog in this analogy, not Sue) stepped into Phil’s fill-in mode. And the first thing to report is that an evening at the theatre apparently does not necessarily involve bickering. This was something of revelation to Andrew who found the entire outing both intellectually stimulating and emotionally restful.
Anyway, this, of course is William Shakespeare’s Hamlet with the inspirational casting of a Doctor Who (David Tennant) in the title role and a Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as both Claudius and the ghost of Old Hamlet.
In the excellent programme (£3.50) director Gregory Doran saves the Whingers a great deal of work by being refreshingly open about the sloppiness of Shakespeare’s writing to the point of listing the following inadequacies (he calls them “ambiguities”):
- When did Claudius and Gertrude begin their affair? Was it before Old Hamlet’s death?
- Is that why the Ghost accuses them of adultery?
- Why does Hamlet adopt his antic disposition?
- Does Hamlet realise he is being overheard in the nunnery scene?
- Does Claudius actually reveal his guilt in his reaction to The Mousetrap, or is that Hamlet’s imagination?
- And what does Horatio think?
- Why does the Ghost appear in the the closet scene?
- And what effect does that have on his old family?
- Does he prevent his son’s attack on his mother?
- Is that his intention?
- Why does Gertrude seem not to have run to help Ophelia as she drowns?
- Why does Shakespeare put the invitation to the duel in the mouth of a waterfly like Osric?
- When does Gertrude realised the cup is poisoned?
This prompted in Andrew a most disagreeable flashback to his O Level days and had him hyperventilating in the foyer. Some deep breathing into a paper bag helped the panic to subside before the old examination adrenaline started pumping reliably through his varicose veins.
He had already begun to jot some model answers down for Mr Doran before realised that he could not actually answer any of the questions – indeed he couldn’t remember even what happened at the end (everyone dies).
The show itself went rather better. Although he found himself floundering with the language from time to time he got all the major plot points and – remarkably – did not once sleep, perchance to dream. No mean feat when even this “short” version, runs for 3 hours 35 minutes.
So congratulations to Mr Doran for turning Hamlet into a witty thriller to the point where the interval even breaks mid-scene in a cliff-hanger (Will Hamlet drive that dagger into Claudius’s back or won’t he? We won’t spoil it for you). And the excellent music by Paul Englishby adds to the Hitchcockian mood with a Bernard Herrmann-in-brass kind of feel. All it lacked was Jessie Royce Landis as Gertrude.
There was much else to enjoy: giant mirrors, a shiny floor, a terrific sword fight (arranged by guess who?), smoking on stage (and from under Old Hamlet’s coat) and some very funny moments.
Indeed, Oliver Ford Davies (left) turns in a particularly delicious performance as Polonius and Mark Hadfield‘s comedy northern George Formby grave-digger is a delightful device for making clear that the scene is meant to be funny even though the jokes aren’t. Northern people really are very funny, aren’t they?
David Tennant (right, with Penny Downie) is funny too, brightly chirruping “Goodnight Mother!” as he drags Polonius’s corpse off stage. He also turns in a pretty good impression of Patrick Stewart in his response to Claudius’s demand, “Where’s Polonius?”.
Better still, Andrew’s seat was perfectly positioned on the aisle nearest the bar enabling him to beat the rush during the (single) interval.
Yet for all this there is one big problem – the stage. The Courtyard (the RSC’s temporary home while the proper theatre is being renovated at a cost of £112 million) features a relatively square thrust stage (plus a couple of quasi-vomitoria – can’t think why we haven’t used that word before) which is almost like theatre in the round and not unlike traverse staging. This means that at any point in the proceedings some people have no view worth talking about and in some cases (such as when the performers are in a circle) nobody has a good view. Andrew’s seat seemed to be on some kind of Stratfordian ley line whose influence dictated that whenever three or more people were on the stage, the three key actors would be exactly aligned with Andrew, the nearest with his back to him.
The bad news is to expect more of this because the new theatre will apparently feature more thrust. You see, our love of the proscenium isn’t simple fogyism on our part, there is method in our madness.
OMG! There’s a Hamlet blog!