The main reason we came to Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend was to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. It was intended to be a wedding anniversary weekend away for myself and Nicky, albeit a late one since the run didn’t start until this week (and then only in preview). We even joined the RSC to be in with a pre-sale chance of tickets.
The verdict? In short: “Wow”.
The cast is phenomenal. Aside from the much-publicised appearance of David Tennant as Hamlet, the company also featured Patrick Stewart in the role of Claudius (King of Denmark), Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and Penny Downie as Gertrude. Other faces were familiar from a variety of film and television roles making the strongest cast I think I’ve ever seen in a production.
I’d seen Hamlet before, produced by a troupe in Castleford of all places – my father took me to see it when I was 12ish I think and I recall hardly understanding it, getting bored and falling asleep. No danger of that here: despite the play being three and a half hours long in total we were continually hanging on the continued tragedy and fall of Hamlet into insanity, the madness and subsequent suicide of Ophelia, the calculation of Claudius and the geriatric amusement of Polonius. This is the sort of production English pupils should see – not the forced reading aloud of cobwebbed books by reluctant children in a classroom (shame on you Mrs Illingworth)!
Despite having a native Scottish brogue, Tennant himself used his ‘television English’ voice which I wasn’t expecting, although it was really very effective. Nicky pointed out it would have been rather odd to have him speaking a different accent to the rest of the company and it may have made some of the 17th-century turn of phrase hard to understand.
Yeah OK, he’s typecast and as a result there are a lot of fans coming to see “David Tennant as Dr Who”. Talking with the barman prior to the performance, he said that it’s fairly easy to tell them because they get bored when he’s not on-stage, fall asleep or yawn. That said I was so wrapped up in the play that I didn’t notice save for the first few minutes of the second half.
The run is sold out, but there are limited numbers of returns available from the box office. If you can get there, go. It’s off to London after this run, there may be tickets still available there.
July 28, 2008 at 9:06 pm
It’s difficult to understate just how good this production was. I hadn’t seen or studied Hamlet previously and did wonder how easy it would be to follow the language and understand the action but it turned out to be remarkably easy.
The cast was awesome and it has to be said that Polonious was the most enjoyable performance for me. That said, the energy of the David Tennant performance was breathtaking. The controlled fury that kept him bound in a tight position bursting out into mad flurries of bounding round the stage expostulating on his situation.
The minimal staging and music were the perfect backdrop and nothing detracted from the interplay between the characters – useful as the subtle mannerisms and gestures conveyed much of the humour in the piece.
Those three hours went past in the blink of an eye and I could have happily sat through the whole thing again. It was really an honour to watch and I strongly recommend that you get tickets if you possibly can.
As for us – this weekend was the first time I think that either of us has sat down to watch a production by the RSC, but it certainly won’t be the last. Tickets for the London run of The Taming of the Shrew starring Michelle Gomez will be our next indulgence. But for now, I’m still on a high from having a perfect weekend with my wonderful husband and watching a performance that I know I will remember for all time.