Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oh this too, too solid flesh did melt...: Hamlet - RSC 18 October 2008

Helen had already had her fun with seeing this a month ago, but was well up for seeing this again, her most favourite of Shakespeare plays (she's seen it around 10 times now, with we think 7 different versions/actors in the role). For me, it was a virginal visit: my first Hamlet on stage (though not radio/audio/film). Beat that next version.

After the heart-pounding activity surrounding our visits to LLL, Hamlet was a bonus in a way that couldn't have seemed possible before the weekend. But it WAS our focus and our prime reason for coming for all that LLL had offered such delights. Hamlet is undeniably one of the most brilliant works of writing ever.

We took our seats on the front row of the circle, to the left side of the stage and befriended an older couple from Lichfield who engaged in banter with us in spite of easily spotting that we were there for Mr Tennant (they were delighted to say they had seen him performing there several times before he garnered the rock star status he now experiences). The audience also had further visitors with Robert Hardy and Jeremy Paxman as just the two we spotted in the audience.

Saturday - Hamlet - the play
This is undeniably a brilliantly dark humoured Hamlet, full of madness, stark wit, and glinting wit coursing through the production thanks to Tennant's natural ability to access and stir laughter with one raised eyebrow and flashing delivery of text. But it remains the tragedy we know it to be and the cast are, as with LLL, fabulous each and every one.

The production is atmospheric despite or because of the simplicity of the set (mostly stark dark marbled floor and mirrors). The torches at the start make brilliant use of this, and are easily appreciated from higher up than stalls level. There's also plenty of noise - the ghost scenes are especially terrifying, with lighting to pick out the reverberation of lines. And it's a pacey performance: edited for sure but with attentiveness to the overall impact so that you would scarce miss the lines cut save for those folk who know each line by heart from full-length versions or if you have a particular one lost in this production.

I stifled tears as ever at Ophelia's descent into madness and her truly tragic death - a speech I know too well from my long love for Pre-Raphaelite art, and marvelled at the way Rozencrantz and Guildenstern were brought to life (hot on the heels of seeing both actors as the other two companions of the King along with Berowne added an extra layer to their 'false friends' performances). Polonius, played as a distracted, over-thinking observer of court life, was masterfully brought to stage by the ever wonderful Oliver Ford Davies (who does this type of thing so well), but to pick on performances almost seems unfair when such overall brilliance is achieved. The play was certainly breathtaking, causing gasps at its playfulness and inventive take on this most well-known of texts.

And as Anna noted, for someone whom so many had come to see on stage, Tennant magnificently captures the gauche, heart-wounded grief of Hamlet from his first moments on stage - paralysed in almost unnoticed watchfulness for the horror of seeing the speedy progression of time from his father's death to his uncle's ascension. From this frozen beginning to his early breakdown on stage, through his delivery of the all the most well-known soliloquies which are informed with equal measure of tenderness and sharpness, this Hamlet is nevertheless caught in his actions: he is unable to stop the consequences of his 'madness'. Tragedy for himself yes, but more for others.

By the call at the end, most of us were on our feet and the applause was deafening when Tennant came on his own on stage - he clearly relishes this sort of acting challenge and the reaction he garners. And who can blame him?!

Highlights (everyone): Penny Dowd's Downie's* clothing (God, her wardrobe is stunning) and her utterly focused final actions as Gertrude; a brilliant Horatio; every scene with the ghost; everything coming together as a beauteous whole.

Highlights (Tennant): the perfect delivery of "country matters"; and sorry, but to echo Rosby's admission of his handsomeness, can I just say dear God, that arse. It will be a long time before my brain even wants to let go of the haunting appeal of his lower back and the red underwear. [Note, this was a bonus of being on that particular side of the stage. God, it was almost distracting].

A good weekend? Hell, yeah.

* apologies for name erros. I was rather exhausted by the time I was trying to write this and things got away from me.


Michele said...

I had a fantastic view of the lower back and top of the underpants from my stalls seat. Yum! :D

Rosby said...

Sounds like a BRILLIANT weekend! I'm burning with jealousy that you got to see both plays, and more than once! He is wonderful, isn't he?

Completely with you on the arse comment; I rarely pay attention to that area on Mr T (contrary to common belief), but there was a moment when he was breaking down at the beginning where I had to suppress a giggle; a certain portion of the audience would have been sitting so that it was all they could see. I wasn't sure if I envied them or not!

I was entranced by the hair. There's so much of it!

Marie said...


Jane Henry said...

Ooh ooh very excited now!! I agree about the brilliance of Hamlet. It is definitely a play to be seen though, studying it first nearly killed me. Once I'd seen it I suddenly got it, and have to thank Mel Gibson for discovering it was actually funny. Can't wait to see DT doing it! What did you think of Patrick Stewart's Claudius?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to see this in December, and I can't wait! I'm also hoping to be able to get a couple of returns for LLL, although not sure how successful I'll be in that. Oh well. I can but try!

Persephone said...

I don't know who Penny Dowd is, but Penny Downie is a magnificent actress. I had the pleasure of seeing her in a joint RSC/National Arts Centre English Theatre production of The Penelopiad here in Ottawa one year ago. It was very much an ensemble work, but she was the centrepiece and she was riveting.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Persephone: DOH! thanks for that. I was typing and writing when VERY tired and hyper and still unable to eat.


juramcleod said...

Yes, I also had great stall seats--I have never noticed the bum either until that night. Hamlet is a naughty boy--I tell you.

J.J said...