Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard Theatre, Straford-upon-Avon
26 July 2008
I won’t do a predictable “to go or not to go” title!
When writing about my latest trip to the RSC, I do not feel the need to do my usual “did Shakespeare really write the plays?” pre-amble – I will just launch straight into it and say, unequivocably - David Tennant is an outstanding Hamlet!
The official press night isn't until 5 August, so my comments on Tennant's performance and the rest of Gregory Doran's new production may be premature, but I don't think that much will change – and a good job too!
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is considered to be THE role, the one that all actors want to test themselves with, and presenting him in a way that preserves its sparkle and potency is a challenge. But all too often though, he is portrayed as doing an awful lot of brooding, so much so that you just want to say “for goodness sake pull yourself together man”. In fact, very often the character is played as a certain “type”, princely, tormented, soldier-like etc.
But what Tennant does is find all his facets, all the different moments and plays them all to perfection. He makes Hamlet’s tormented soul highly likeable with a sense of comedy about his madness. It’s more of a personal struggle with how he feels rather than out and out insanity and one that you can totally understand and believe in. As a wronged son he almost reverts to being a petulant child who has had his Playstation taken out of bounds. But there’s also sensitivity, sadness and anguish. You are with him all the way, totally hooked by his emotional journey and as the character took his final breath I shed a tear. I’ve never felt like that about Hamlet before!
But it also must be said that while Tennant is superb, it’s not all about him. It’s a wonderful company and an excellent production. Hamlet is a great story. Compared to some of the history plays it’s easy to follow and when it’s well-told, as it is here, it’s an exciting thriller.
Oliver Ford Davies is a lovely old Polonious, often going off into a world of his own, saying the words as if for the first time and pondering over what he is saying. Patrick Stewart’s Claudius is firm and manipulative but gorgeous and together with Penny Downie’s beautiful Gertrude, you can easily see why the two of them got together! In fact, I want to be Penny Downie, beautiful in an ethereal way, elegant, poised and able to carry off gorgeous but unforgiving silk dresses. Moreover, I want to be Penny Downie in Hamlet as in the space of two minutes, David Tennant kisses her and Patrick Stewart massages her shoulders!
And I have to admit that I spent a good deal of the evening just thinking how blimming lucky the whole cast was to be in this production.
The set is quite simple, and mirrored to reflect the holding a mirror up to nature quote and indeed it’s a quote-tastic play, there are the very famous ones of course but also odd phrases such as “single spies”, “murder most foul” etc and so many more that you suddenly remember how influential Shakespeare was in the language that we speak today.
I also can’t write this post without mentioning the Dr Who posse which made for a very different audience and quite a lot of hysterical screaming at the end. You can’t get a ticket for love nor money and much of this is down to David Tennant’s role as the infamous TV time lord and people wanting to see their hero in anything. Add to this Patrick Stewart’s Star Trek fame and Oliver Ford Davies’ Star Wars background and it’s a sci-fi fans heaven!
I am NOT a sci-I fan, ergo there cannot be a sci-fi heaven, it is all hell in my book, and pointless to boot (What is the dark side when it’s at home anyway?!) so I was just excited and delighted to see some of our greatest stage actors doing their stuff. My husband on the other hand loves all that space slash fantasy rubbish so for him it was double bubble, great actors AND heroes, but we both recognise that the viewing public are lucky to be able to see actors like Tennant on prime time TV.
And, while I was able to scoff at all the people asking where the toilets were, he enjoyed watching the geeks in front of us when Patrick Stewart said something like “Let it be so” and they all started laughing and nudging each other. Apparently, this was half way to his famous Star Trek quote “make it so”, they were practically puce with excitement at the mere mention of the “so” word!
I have to say that while part of me felt like whipping out my programme collection to prove that I am at that theatre an awful lot, whether or not there’s a Saturday night TV star on show, most of me thought that if it gets more people at the theatre, that can only be a good thing. And when they are actually there to watch fine actors, rather than karaoke stars who have been voted into the role by the public (sorry, “I’d Do Anything”!), then so much the better!
If you’re going to see Hamlet, you know that you won’t be out of the theatre much before four hours but at about three hours, 45 minutes, this production flew by all too quickly. It was a real privilege to be in the theatre, made even more special by the fact that on this particular weekend, a year ago, we were married – despite my husband’s love of Dr Who!