Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Hamlet" - September 2007

What a mixed bag this turned out to be, and what mixed reactions it provoked. But before diving in, I do need to be upfront about my previous relationship with "Hamlet", in that I don't have one. I've never seen it performed until tonight. I've never read it. I've never even read notes on it for school. But I do like to see Shakespeare done well and was looking forward to eradicating this unintentional (and quite honestly embarrassing) gap in my theatregoing experience.

But even with my less than passing familiarity with the play, I was aware that it doesn't normally start with "To be, or not to be..." I understand that this, and the absence of Rosencrantz were the major changes to the piece, but I'm hardly an authority, so I'll leave that for others to comment on.

What I am happier discussing is the performances that we saw from the Citizens Theatre Company. I really enjoyed Andrew Clark's "Hamlet" which was always engaging and at times evoked the menace and gallusness of Hamlet as done by Robert Carlyle in the style of Begbie from Trainspotting.

Barrie Hunter was entertaining as "Polonius" and was a show stealer in his role as the Gravedigger which was played very cleverly solo, with only a skull for his on-stage partner. The 4th wall came tumbling as he addressed the audience in a music hall style to much delight - with the possible exception of a couple in the front row who found themselves suddenly damp.

As "Claudius", John Kazek gave a weighty performance but while his quiet delivery of some lines may have brought out a deeper aspect of the character, I suspect the dialogue will have been lost to much of the audience. Fletcher Mathers did well as "Gertrude" to convey her difficult relationship with "Hamlet" as it developed over the course of the play.

Sam Heughan as "Guildenstern" and Mark Wood as "Laertes" both disappointed, giving performances that seemed fixed and unresponsive and definitely acted. Samantha Young's "Ophelia" appeared soulless and almost disinterested for much of the time although when she was finally brought to life by madness, Young produced a beautiful, moving and memorable performance of her final scenes. It's such a pity the spark wasn't ignited earlier.

Guy Hollands' direction is a prime example of how the production is at turns wonderful and woeful. The first section of the 'play within the play' is presented effectively as silhouettes on sheeting to great comic effect. But we then have the clowns front and centre with 'enhanced' prosthetic genitalia. In a normal audience this would provide a moment or two of humour and the audience would move on with the scene but it's a terribly miss-judged set piece for a production that will no doubt regularly be half filled by school parties as it was tonight. The nudges and giggles continue for several minutes after the action has moved on, much to the distraction and irritation of the remainder of the audience. And it's a shame, as for the most part the school parties tonight were well behaved and their reaction to that section was wholly predictable.

While undeniably striking, the main response to the set was almost certainly - What is it? as the huge copper triangle with holes cut out was lowered and raised. Waldorf suspects it was representative of Swiss cheese in The Mousetrap, but I'm unconvinced. The "Ghost" was effectively realised and well lit, although the dry ice was seriously overdone.

Overall, Clark's "Hamlet" was effective and interesting enough to carry the production for me, with a bit of assistance from Kazek, Mathers and Hunter. I think Waldorf was less impressed.

Hamlet runs at the Citizens until 13th October.

4 Heckles

Anonymous said...

On the subject of school parties attending plays - couldn't theatres perhaps reserve a couple of matinees or weeknight performances especially for schools? I saw a production of Macbeth at the Theatre Royal a few years back where I was seated next to a few dozen teenagers who obviously had no interest in being there and made the evening extremely unpleasant for everyone around them. I don’t really think it’s acceptable to take money from people without at least informing them in advance that the theatre will be turned into a crèche for the evening – most people go the theatre to get away from their kids!

Bluedog said...

I agree that seeing lots of school parties in the same night you are can give cause for alarm, but on the whole they are well behaved and enthusiastic.

We went to see The Birthday Party in The Tron a while back, and the house was mostly school pupils - they were actually a fantastic audience: they sat still, listened, laughed, and clapped and whistled at the end like it was a goal at a football match.

On balance, I would certainly rather have them in on main performance nights rather than ghettoise them into special school performances. Going to the theatre, like eating in restaurants, is something children should be exposed to, and learn what is expected of them, at an early age.

Waldorf said...

In our case we fully expected that there would be school parties at the theatre that night. If you go to see something that's on the school curiculum midweek then it's to be expected. Our hearts did sink a little when we saw buses pull up though.

What didn't help on the night was the inability of the accompanying teachers to organise the seating (could they not have give the pupils seat numbers in advance). Musical chairs had nothing on this.

Overall the 'young people' have been better behaved than some of their elders, who really should know better.

Bluedog said...

Time and again the youngsters have behaved better than their elders! So true.