Friday, 25 July 2008

Hamlet, The Courtyard, Stratford Upon Avon, 24 Jul 2008

I'm just happy I have tickets to see this thing four more times, because I can't make my mind up about it. I liked it, only I can't figure it out the extent to which I liked it. Maybe it was the shock of seeing my first Stratford play, or that it had to be this play, with this particular actor.

David Tennant wasn't the best Hamlet I have ever seen, but when he was at his best -and that was often enough to make the night remarkable- he was the one who came closest to the Hamlet I have in my mind whenever I read the play.

The first time a play is performed everything is still hanging by a thread so I will forgive the nerves and indecision of the first ten minutes. It was almost kind of sweet, David Tennant's reverence towards his role, the crushing pressure of just being Hamlet, that had him in the cold for a couple of scenes. Luckily, once he warmed up, he became the Hamlet we were all expecting from him: hilarious, energetic, teenage, raw. Tennant has the ability to be touching and creepy at the same time, so that the audience is put in a real moral dilemma, whether they should cheer for the hero or not. There's always a darkness barely veiled in all of Tennant's performance and that's just what was needed to give depth to this indeed very deep role.

I'm not so enthused about the production's desire to be sold as a thriller, downplaying the philosophical elements in Shakespeare's piece. Pity, because it's when the prince is at his most still and meditative that Tennant shines brighter and the odd intimacy of the stage plus mirrors works best.

Nor am I in agreement with Doran's choice of interval-break for the story. It makes sense with the whole let's-sell-this-as-a-thriller strategy but I think it belittles the whole production, such a cheap cry for suspense. Going for such a shameless cliffhanger effect felt wrong, and left the play unbalanced as the second half lost a lot of coherency.

A By The Way: During the intermission we discovered, to our dismay, to be in presence of Gordon Brown.

Now, it's a universally acknowledge truth (by me at least) that you shouldn't judge a Hamlet until his gravedigger scene. For many reasons the pivotal point in any performance of the role, if not of the play itself. So when I say that Tennant was better in the second half of the play that probably means I think he is a bloody good choice for Hamlet. He is. After his adventures with the pirates (that's my take on Hamlet and his ship journey) the Hamlet that comes back is much older, calmer, hollowed-out in many ways. Gone is the youthful energy, what remains is the cold philosopher. And that's when Tennant makes the role his, eventually. These scene also show how, despite his nowadays role as a media icon, David Tennant is one of the smartest actors working the stage. You can almost literally see the amount of thinking and intelectual musing that goes on in his mind during each acting choice. A good head on his shoulders, this one has.

All the cast is excellent. Patrick Stewart predictably so. He gives us a very sympathetic Claudius, a very no-bullshit head of state. A pleasant surprise was Mariah Gale as Ophelia: fierce by fragile, and with tons of chemistry with both Laertes and Hamlet. The "I'm So Glad You Are In This" award of the night goes to Peter De Jersey, because Horatio is my weak spot in all of Shakespeare's characters and De Jersey simply nails it.

PS: The stage door experience was humanity at its very worst and one had to pity this poor man Tennant and his hords of unconsiderate fans. Such a experience should be enough to put him off theatre for ever. But let's hope it's not the case. Theatre needs practitioners like him, brainy and enthiastic.

We came back the next day and contributed to the RSC's wealth by buying some of the handsome posters and indulging in some overpriced soft drinks from the Courtyard's cafe.

Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?
At supper.
At supper! where?
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service,–two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about the other four times I'm seeing this.

*pictures from

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