Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hamlet Preview screening BFI Monday 14 December 2009 (RSC/BBC/Illuminations)

Wow! I mean, WOW.

It has to be said that the RSC/BBC/Illuminations production of Hamlet, due to air on Boxing Day 2009 in the UK, is a total treat: it is a stunning rendition of the stage play performed in Stratford in 2008 (and in London with Ed Bennett/David Tennant in the lead role over December 2008-January 2009). The delight of seeing it broadcast on a big screen was breathtaking.

I'll try to review the production without spoiling it too much, though I suspect if you are here, a goodly number of you have already seen it. Some of you several times (Helen, I am looking at you as supreme leader of the LBP*)

Mostly this will be a review of the day as well as the experience of the screening (with its Q&A). But with some background as well.

Sunday 13 December 2009
In the midst of packing for the holidays, I also had to juggle packing for this short break. My brain is almost fried by the time I get to London to meet Helen Lisette who had just ensured her mum is safely home following a visit to see Spacey/Troughton doing 'Inherit the Wind'. I would have loved to have seen that production: by all accounts it's awesome.

A quiet evening, especially as I had had to break it to Helen earlier that day that David Tennant was unlikely to be at the Q&A** (I'd never banked on his appearance being more than a long shot but I'm nothing if not empathetic to the idea of living in hope). Personally, given I will miss the TV airing in the UK at Xmas, I was just glad to have the communal watching experience of the BFI screening. If I'd been at home, I know the even would have been preceded, interluded and follow-up with innumerable texts!

Monday 14 December 2009
Up at a reasonable hour from our beds in the Novotel on Euston Road. Since breakfast on Tuesday would be too difficult to schedule before our train, Helen hasn't booked anything which means I can take her to Brunos! Hurrah! Following long traffic snarled journey by bus we have breakfast about 10.45am/11am.

Off to the BFI via the RV1 bus at the Novello theatre: enjoyed the scenery to the Tower and back again (on the same bus). Meet Helen's contact, the lovely V, outside the BFI. Have a VERY leisurely lunch discussing proof-reading and punctuation: Neil would have been proud of us!

Decide to head back to hotel to 'rest and change'. Oh dear. As we walk in, the lifts are all out of action. We sit down to wait and then the alarms go off. Evacuate the building! Over in Starbucks, we watch the fire engines arrive and people in High Vis jackets coralling staff/guests etc. No hope of returning even if we wanted so it's the bus back to the BFI. I'm now starting to get texts from attendees -- Poly will be there eating, Anna is struggling to get away from work.

Once there, we snack in the Riverside bar section only to find Poly is in the other bar (where HLW, myself and V had dined at lunch). Rosby - formerly wild and wandering but now twittering from Lancaster - texts to say she's on her way. I'm getting excited but know I haven't been able to check mail since Sunday around 3.45pm so there may be problems with meeting everyone. As it works out, poor Marie is ill so despite keeping a careful watch towards where I knew she would be sat, we were unable to meet her. Sniff.

It is really lovely though to finally - albeit very briefly meet with Anna and with Rosby and Tara. Big hugs and me being totally gushy. Thankfully I was wearing stripes so I think I was visible enough!

The screening was full-ish, but I suspect that winter weather and awareness that David Tennant is filming in Los Angeles*** scale back a few attendees. There's a nice introduction and from our seats we can see all the extra guests attending: Greg Doran is there is Sir Anthony Sher, Sam Alexander is present, Michael Boyd and obviously Patrick Stewart.

Once the screening starts you're straight in: and you can already tell it will be a clever and visual treat. Lots of nifty camera stuff happening; wonderful use of the spaces used to stand in for the stage. The first of the audience questions at the end praised the way it still managed to 'involve' the audience (in the way the proscenium stage at Stratford had especially done), and it is true that you do feel a sense of spying and being in the space with them.

There are a few cuts - the graveyard scene loses a few bits, and since Doran finds Fortinbras boring anyway it's not a shock that his presence suffers yet more cuts in the transition from stage to screen. But mostly it is odd lines, and afficiandos aside, I think we cope with it. As the Q&A contextualised, any version is inevitably editorialised: even Branagh's use of all the versions is in itself an editorial decision. On which note, Doran seemed genuinely thrilled by what filming especially enabled him to do which was editing: focusing the audience's gaze in a particular location and in particular ways.

Let's just say that I doubt there'll be much dispute with his choices: there will be plenty of screen caps doing the rounds. (Does Tennant laying on his back, legs up on a chair count as sitting? Of course it does...)

The Q&A was also nice for showing what a superbly nice blocke Patrick Stewart is: not only is he self-effacing and charming but he could also put down Mark Lawson (a thing of beauty to behold was Stewart's emphatic 'No' in response to one of Lawson's uninsightful questions). Stewart also made an impassioned call to expand on the oft-cliched comment that 'if Shakespeare were alive today he would be writing for Eastenders' (guess who first bought that up? *cough* Mark Lawson *cough*). Stewart declaimed that Shakespeare may well write for Eastenders, but only because Play for Today, the Wednesday Play etc no longer existed. Quite QUITE true and well put.

It was also nice to hear at least one of our number have courage enough to ask a question: I hope she doesn't feel too bad about it because it was a well put question about awareness and influences and how directors respond to them. And she didn't lose focus unlike one poor gentleman at the front who on first attempt just blanked out and had to have a second attempt later when he had written out his question!

Overall, it was a great experience: the bum-numbing 3 hour screening was worthwhile and the Q&A a delight (like missing DT due to back injury last Xmas, I suspect it would have been just too squee-tastic had he been able to attend so it 'took the pressure off' one may say!)

Afterwards, we had wine and chat - just missing Patrick Stewart leaving, well wrapped up against the cold - and then got the tube back to the hotel. At which point - well after midnight we find the lifts still not working, no proper guidance to the service lifts, a smell of smoke, water outside the service lift, and then water on the carpet in our room (the sprinklers must have gone off - thankfully H's bag was not drenched). the room hadn't been serviced. bah. Stern email from the H I think, because the lack of information was worse than the experience and at after midnight we were in no state to press for a room change (tho the reception next day seemed convinced we had been moved: not if you don't tell us we ain't!)

It was a shame to have the hotel put the (literal) dampers on things. But it was a great experience and I now won't feel QUITE so bad missing the Boxing Day screening. And the DVD comes out before I get home! Hurrah!!!

* LBP - Lucky Bitch Party. Yes, I am still seething at the half time text I had last January declaring "SQUEEE! DT back! Aren't we lucky?" [answer from me "You have to be fucking kidding me!" - it was David first performance after his back treatment]

** In light of David having been unable to attend the BFI screening, perhaps Helen has let her membership of the LBP lapse. Then again, we both felt extremely privileged to have been enabled to attend the BFI event.

*** From Patrick Stewart's gracious praise for David - reported all over the net ("heart, centre and soul" was I think the phrase he used) - I suspect that at some point it may have been hoped that David could make the Q&A but the schedule for filming Rex put the kibbosh on this. The way that pilots usually work, and are filmed, and are usually taken up in the USA, certainly seems to be functioning differently for Rex.


Michele said...

SO jealous you got to go!!

Persephone said...

Another jealous person is reading this from Canada and (now she's got a universal DVD player thanks to the Resident Fan Boy) will probably order Hamlet from Britain, rather than wait for the (likely edited) American version on PBS.

Speaking of "discussing proof-reading", may I be a tiresome nitpicker? (Keep in mind this comes from a person who always manages to miss the misplaced commas and verb disagreements in her own blog....)
Does Tennant laying on his back, legs up on a chair count as sitting? What's wrong with this sentence, young lady?

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Persephone: all manner of things are wrong with that sentence, many of which could be put right by me just visualising that same scene and how entertaining it was to me!


PS visit a friend with a large screen TV if you can to watch the Hamlet. 'Tis delicious!

Anonymous said...

I also attended the BFI preview and was delighted that the production had transfered so well to the screen. Not that I ever had any doubts though.

Btw can I join LBP? Though I already knew DT had returned (a friend works at the Novello) the sound of sheer delight from the audience when the announcement was made is one I will never forget. Patrick Stewart was overheard (backstage) saying it was like something from a rock concert!