There may be something rotten looking at the state of Phil’s fridge but – housekeeping aside – let it be never said that the Whingers were anything but fastidious, especially when it comes to self-improvement.
Well have you ever been to a performance of Hamlet with someone who had a degree in Shakespearean dramaturgy? Well, we did. On Saturday night. We acquired the services of someone called @kerrypolka off Twitter who patiently explained things to us, sometimes several times, over a glass of wine after the preview performance.
We think she was rather pleased with our progress and produced from her handbag some sample GCSE papers for us.
Q. What is Hamlet about?
A. Hamlet is about 3hrs 50 minutes. The first half alone seemed to be that long. Four out of the 8 people in the front rows side section appeared to have their eyes closed. So did Andrew who partook of his statutory 40 winks before perking up in the second half.
Q. Who is Hamlet?
A. He seems to be a different character every time he comes on. This may be in the text or this may be Rory Kinnear’s interpretation. Although not terribly exciting, he’s watchable and survives, just about, being forced to dress as a hoodie. Comment très moderne.
Q. Describe Hamlet’s appearance.
A. He has a plaster over his right eyebrow. Possibly as the result of rehearsing the marvellous (SPOILER ALERT) sword fight which takes place at the end when everybody dies!
Q. Was Hamlet mad or pretending to be mad?
Q. Was Ophelia mad or pretending to be mad?
A. Off her trolley. Hence the supermarket-trolley she pushes around during the mad scene (this may have been something innovatory for this production).
Q. Was Gertrude in on the murder of her husband?
A. Must have been when you think about it, although the part does seem shockingly under-written in that respect.
Q. Which character did you most empathise with and why?
A. Gertrude – a dipsomaniac in four inch heels as portrayed by Clare Higgins who is more Sophia Loren-ish than any we’ve seen before. She seems less Danish and more to the Italian Mama born. She is agreeably funny from her first scene in which she sits next to Claudius as he gives his television address to the nation. The moment the cameras stop rolling she slumps, laughs and grabs a drink. from then on it’s alcohol all the way. It’s inspired as it makes natural and perfect sense when she (SPOILER ALERT) grabs the poisoned chalice from the palace (as opposed to the brew that is true) and (SPOILER ALERT) dies.
Q. Did Sir Nicholas of Hytner’s innovatory assertion that Ophelia was murdered make sense?
A. Yes. Perfectly. The character of Ophelia is so annoying that it’s a wonder she lasted as long as she did.
Q. From what you observed of the production, describe the designer’s brief to the cast.
A. “Just bring in something from home”
Q. Explain the reluctance of modern productions to do Hamlet “properly” in doublet and hose.
A. We can’t.
Q. Discuss the significance of soft toys and dolls in Hamlet.
A. Babar The Elephant is a crucial symbol in Hamlet. Shakespeare’s idea was that in carrying Babar around with her, Ophelia was carrying a symbol of Hamlet himself – the elephant in a crown, the elephant which will never forget the fratricidal intercession of Claudius into the lineage which Hamlet sees as his birthright. What many people do not realise is that “rosemary” is an error which crept into the second folio. Previous versions clearly say, “There’s Babar. That’s for remembrance.” The production also featured a naked Barbie doll with her legs splayed but we don’t want to go into that.
Q. Explain Hamlet’s desire to murder his step-father and sleep with his mother?
A. His mother is Claire Higgins!
Q. Discuss the themes of surveillance and spying in Hamlet and their relevance to an Elizabethan audience.
A. We can’t. But we enjoyed the courtiers acting as security men and spies, sporting head-sets and either talking into their cuffs or possibly sniffing their wrists after a visit to the Duty Free perfume shop at the Københavns Lufthavne. It was difficult to tell. “These but the trappings and the suits of woe” gets a very literal twist. The Danish court is awash with men in black, lurking in the shadows.
Q. Did Shakespeare have a sense of humour?
A. Polonius says “brevity is the soul of wit” and “this is too long” and this is clearly Shakespeare having a laugh at his audience’s expense. On the other hand it is difficult to not to want to get up and shove the punning gravedigger’s spade somewhere even gloomier than the stage.
Q. Did you not like the darkness?
A. There are compensations in some of the visuals. The scene in which Claudius prays as Hamlet lurks in the shadows with a knife was particularly striking, despite the presence of a Linda Barker four-seater sofa on the other side of the stage. Has the National found new sponsorship with DFS?
Q. Discuss the importance of stagecraft in Hamlet.
A. Kinnear’s finest moment sees him deftly flip a sword from the floor with his toe which is then adroitly caught by Laertes. But even more impressive is his dying fall to the stage performed with a glass of bubbly in his hand without spilling a drop. The Whingers were quite awestruck.
Q. Was this a good Hamlet or a bad Hamlet?
A. There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. But it was, we thought, in some respects, a bit innovatory.