marjorie73: (Default)
 I was a little disappointed with the line up for the Bath Literary Festival this year, as I couldn't find very many events I wanted, and was able, to attend. However, one I did like the look of was an interview with Dominic Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, talking about his book about the 'Hamlet: Globe to Globe' tour.


For those who don't know, the tour marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death by trying to take a production of 'Hamlet' to every country in the world.


Dominic Dromgoole, 20.05.17

 

It was very interesting. Dominic started by explaining that he is a local boy; he was brought up in Wedmore, so coming to Bath feels like coming home. He also pointed out that the parents of one of the Hamlet cast, another local boy, were in the audience!


He explained that the idea of the tour came about in a 'louche bar' where he and other members of the Globe team were drinking cocktails at the end of an away day (he commented that the Globe doesn't get any government support, and very little sponsorship, so the money comes from the box office and they felt, therefore, able to spend it on such things!). They were unsure, at first, whether it would even be possible, but (he claims) decided to go ahead anyway! It followed on from the season they had had at the Globe, where they performed all of Shakespeare's plays, with companies from around the world performing in a wide variety of languages, so they were able, to some extent, to build on the relationships built with various international theatres and companies.


He explained that they then had to decide which play to take on tour, and decided on Hamlet on the basis that it has iconic appeal, and unlike other plays (such as Romeo and Juliet) it is elusive; there is always more or the actors to discover, so they are less likely to get bored and stale over a long run.


He was asked about how well the play was understood, in non-English speaking countries, particularly as there were no sur-titles, and in some of the countries visited the play would not be (well) known.  He explained that, as at the Globe, they performed in natural light or with the audience, as well as the players, lit, which allows cast and audience to make eye contact with one another, and that key parts of the play 'read' clearly even of you don't understand the words -the opening scene, on the battlements, is a readily understandable scenario,  Claudius can be recognised as an authority figure, ghosts are well known in most cultures, and so on. 


Over all it was an interesting conversation, I was glad to have gone. And it left me really wanting to see a version of Hamlet at the Globe! 


After the event, I had a chance to buy a book (although I bought an older one rather than Globe to Globe, to start with!) and say hello. 

marjorie73: (Default)
 When I saw that Andrew Scott (Moriarty from 'Sherlock') was going to be playing 'Hamlet' at the Almeida Theatre, this Spring, with Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude, I couldn't not try to get tickets. I didn't manage it directly, but my friend A did, which meant that last night he and I fortified ourselves with an excellent Turkish meal before heading to the Almeida.

 

 


This production of the play is almost uncut, and is directed by Robert Icke, who was also responsible for the horribly effective and chilling 1984.

 

It was very interesting, and very different from the last couple of versions I have seen. This iteration of the court of Denmark is modern, the stage divided by sliding glass doors allowing to see behind the arras at times, the opening scene sees Horatio and Marcellus spot the ghost on the bank of screens showing feeds from security cameras, and updates such as Fortinbras's invasion are shown as news reports (complete with Danish headlines running across the bottom of the screen).

 

Andrew Scott's Hamlet is not, for the most part, as maniacal as you might expect, from seeing his Moriarty - from the outset, he came across as anxious and uncertain, constantly fidgeting with his watch, and lacking in self-confidence. His soliloquies are often conversational, and this is definitely a Hamlet in which the madness seems genuine rather than feigned.

Production Photo: Claudius, Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) and Claudius (Angus Wright) are passionate with one another, unable to keep their hands off each other, but I wasn't entirely convinced by Claudius-as-villain , except in the final poisoning scene.


I was left feeling a bit ambivalent about the production. I would quite like to see it a second time. But I found it interesting, and worth seeing. 


Hamlet is at the Almeida until 15th April.

RSC Hamlet

Mar. 22nd, 2016 05:37 pm
marjorie73: (Default)

The RSC's season this spring includes a new production of Hamlet, and I thought it would be interesting to see it.


The title role is played by Paapa Essiedu,with Hiran Abeysekera as Horatio, Marcus Griffiths as Laertes, Natalie Simpson as Ophelia, and Tanya Moodie and Clarence Smith as Gertrude and Claudius, respectively.


The performance I saw was the very first preview  performance, and we were told, immediately before the play began, that the cast had not had the opportunity to have a full dress rehearsal on the main stage!


Despite one or two small glitches, which will no doubt be sorted as the run continues, it was a good performance and a very good production. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast.


The production sets the play in a contemporary, (unidentified) African nation, and at the start of play we see his graduation from Wittenberg University - there is a feeling of a clash of culture between Hamlet, with his foreign education and friends, (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, here, presented as young outsiders - gap year travellers, perhaps, tourists unfamiliar with the customs of the country.)  and the court and customs of Denmark.


And it works really, really, well.


Essiedu's Hamlet is young and passionate, very volatile - his 'madness' a relatively short step from his earlier volatility. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio appears deep and enduring - Horatio's loyalty to Hamlet, and his despair in the final scenes, as a result, are completely believable.


Cyril Nri's Polonius was far more dignified, and far less a figure of fun, than he usually is, which, coupled with the warmth of the scenes between him and his children, makes Ophelia's descent into madness following his death appear more a reaction to his death, than to Hamlet's repudiation of his love for her.


What else? Ewart James Walters is the most dignified and awe-inspiring Ghost you could imagine, and the final duel between Hamlet and Leartes is fast and thrilling (even though you know how it will end, and the production as a whole brings a freshness to the [lay which is pretty impressive, considering that the play is 400 years old.


If you can get to Stratford and see it, I strongly recommend it. If you can't, try to catch it when it is broadcast to cinemas in June.

I believe that Paapa Essiedu and Hiran Abeysekera are both going to be appearing in the BBC's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which is showing later this year, as Demetrius and Puck respectively. I was looking  forward to that already, but after seeing this, I'm looking forward to it even more!

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Last Thursday, the Barbican Hamlet was broadcast live to cinemas, and I went to see it.



As you know, I saw it live back in August (see here) and I was really interested to see it again, and to see what had changed, and how different the play appeared on film. There are a few of the other NT Broadcasts which I've both on stage an screen, and it's never the same.  (Not necessarily worse or better, just different)



I think that this production, being so big, and with such a cinematic set, worked well as a broadcast.




Some of the things which I have found annoying about some of the other broadcasts, such as the habit of zooming in on primary characters and missing much of the subtle background action, were still present here, but I found it less irritating in this production than in others, as it cut out some of the things I found irritating about the live show, such as the excessive use of over-elaborate props. It did however also mean that there were some subtleties lost - the gradual disintegration of Elsinore was far less obvious, for instance.



I did think that the production has improved as the actors have settled into it - the friendship between Horatio and Hamlet seemed closer and more plausible (although I am still not a fan of nerdy backpacker Horatio) and I thought Ophelia's scenes, particularly after Polonius's death, were stronger, although as a character (though not the actor) is not, in my view, one of Shakespeare's better creations!

I enjoyed seeing it again.

marjorie73: (Default)

Over a year ago, I read that Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock, Frankenstein and Smaug fame, was to play Hamlet, live, at the Barbican Theatre in London this year. And I have a group of friends who, like me, like going to the theater- we've previously seen David Tennant in Hamlet, and more recently, in Richard II, and agreed that seeing Mr Cumberbatch's Hamlet would be a good thing to do.


So, with some difficulty, I managed to buy the maximum 6 tickets permitted, (it later turned out that the show was the fastest seller in, well, pretty much ever. I was lucky that there were only a couple of hundred people ahead of me in the queue when I booked - later that day there were lover 10,000)


And a year went by, and on 15th August I reached the point where I was sitting in the stalls, in the Barbican theatre, waiting for the Prince of Denmark.. As the man says 'the readiness is all'


So, was it worth the wait?

I think so.


It should be mentioned that we saw the play on 15th August, which was (although not made clear when we booked, or on our tickets) a preview, 10 days into the run.


The play opens, not with the usual scene of Bernardo and Marcellus on the ramparts of Elsinore, but instead with Hamlet, alone on stage, looking though tea-chests (apparently paced with childhood items) while Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” plays on an old gramophone player. (The music familiar to many of us as the music from the film 'Moulin Rouge'), establishing him as, at the very least, a little melancholic.

We then moved to a the wedding breakfast, with vast displays of white flowers and of hunting trophies, as Claudius deals with the ambassadors to Norway, Laertes' wish to return to college, an Hamlet's own moodiness.

Hamlet: Scene 2 (official pic by Johan Persson)

Shortly after this picture was taken, Hamlet starts walking on the table and giving the  'O, that this too, too solid flesh..' soliloquy  (with the rest of the cast moved in slow-motion, which I thought was an effective way of allowing the soliloquies to be given, and to be clearly internal,  despite the number of other people on stage.)

Claudius - a trustworthy King

(photo credit as before)

Very effective.

Obviously Cumberbatch is the headliner in the production, but the cast as a whole is very strong:



Ciaran Hinds' Claudius doesn't really let the menacing, dangerous side of the character out in the earlier scenes of the play, but as the play progresses and he begins to fear Hamlet, and his own conscience, he becomes more obviously threatening.


Kobna Holdbrook-Smith was a hugely powerful and commanding Laertes. Given that he has a relatively small amount of time on stage, he packed one hell of a punch.

I don't think I have seen Holdbrook-Smith before but will definitely be looking out for him in future!

Laertes
Other characters were also, generally, pretty strong - Anastasia Hille as Gertrude made a great foil for Hamlet's flamboyance, and her reaction to Ophelia's madness and death was beautifully done.

Gertrude and Hamlet
I was a little less impressed with Ophelia (Sian Brooke) and with Horatio (Leo Bill) as characters, although I think n both cases this was a fault in the production not in the actors. In neither case did their relationships with Hamlet quite 'jell', for me. Ophelia's madness was beautifully done in its subtle contrast with Hamlet's own feigned madness, but she was less convincing as a object of his love, or even as a 'safe' friend for the emotionally immature Hamlet of this production.
Ophelia
Horatio seemed affectionate but a little distant until the very end of the play, and as a result his anguish at Hamlet's death seemed less consistent with his earlier relationship than it sometimes does. I would love to see the production again, and see whether this changes as Cumberbatch and Bill settle into working together. We did, after all, see a production only 11 performances into the run. I'm planning to see the NTLive broadcast on 15th October, and will be curious to see how the production changes.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstein got what was coming to them.

What of the man himself?

I was *very* impressed.Cumberbatch's Hamlet has moments of pure, 'Sherlock' style intellect, (Hamlet's reaction to the Ghost' command to the soldiers to 'swear' is perfect!) lots of physical work, and much more humour than you normally see in Hamlet.

This Cumberbatch chap is pretty got with the acting. I think he will go far. Who knows, perhaps he will even make it to Hollywood one day!

And the show is worth seeing for the toy fort part alone.

Which brings me on to the set.
Which is huge. The Barbican stage is BIG, and this set takes full advantage of that. And there is a lot going on. The set is the Palace, huge, and formal (and gradually cracking and  deteriorating over the course of the play, mirroring the destruction of the lives of those on stage, and that part really works. There is a sweeping staircase, and a balcony to one side of the stage, which works well for all the plotting.
I was less enamoured of the set dressing - lots of white garlands for the wedding breakfast, and lots of flowers, bizarrely arranged in brass instruments , for the play-within-a-play, as well  as an entire mini-theatre, and a war room. Again, it may be that the scene changes will get a little slicker over time, but I did find some of them a little distracting. I will admit, however, that full size toy fort in which Hamlet plays, establishing his madness, was a lot of fun!
Over all, it's a very good production, with a very strong ensemble cast, some interesting cuts and changes in the text, and just a few too many props! I was happy to see that although some well known lines were cut (Polonius, I'm looking at you) and others appeared in unexpected places, Fortinbras made the cut. There were probably even some sledded Polacks in the wings, if one only knew where to look.
Laertes and Hamlet. Not going to end well.
Oh, and Benedict knocked over a case of swords during the curtain call, proving he is human, and then very tidily picked them up off the floor before taking his bow!
I am very glad that I got to see it, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again at the cinema. And even if you can't see the show lie, do go to the broadcast if you get a chance.  I give it 4.5 / 5 stars. (half off for the flowers-inna-tuba)

(edited to add: the NT Live trailer is up on youtube- well worth listening to!)

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