By: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Janet Suzman
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Saturday 29th April 2006
This was a brilliant production. All credit to the cast, who had to overcome the recent killing of one of their number on Easter Saturday. They honoured his memory by putting on one of the best performances of Hamlet I have ever seen, and I would willingly see it again.
It took me a little time to get used to some of the accents, but after a while I found it helped my appreciation of the play. Different speech rhythms brought out some aspects of the lines I hadn’t heard before, and although other lines were occasionally lost, overall it led to a richer understanding of the text.
The play was edited in some interesting ways I hadn’t seen before. All the “removing” in the post-ghost scene was itself removed, making for more sensible action. Other cuts were very smooth and I didn’t feel I was missing anything important.
The actors were excellent. Apart from Claudius, who never seemed to get beyond simply saying the lines, there was a wonderful richness and depth to each performance. Gertrude was a suitably doting mother, horrified at what she saw during Hamlet’s diatribe against her second marriage. Ophelia’s mad scenes are often embarrassing to watch; here they tore your heart into little pieces as the poor innocent girl fell apart from all the pressure she was under – we could feel the weight of it all as it carried her to the bottom of the river. Her relationship with Hamlet reminded me more of Romeo and Juliet, and I was never so desperate to see two young lovers overcome the parental obstacles and live happily ever after.
Hamlet himself was possibly the best I’ve seen. He conveyed a sense of youth, grieving, resentment at his lot, intelligence, fluidity, and potential kingliness which was remarkable. His reading of the lines in “to be or not to be”, listing all the difficulties of this world – “the proud man’s contumely”, etc – was the best I have ever heard; each item came across freshly and clearly, and I saw them in my mind’s eye as he spoke. Hamlet’s emotional journey was beautifully evoked, helped in no small measure by the tremendous support from the rest of the cast, especially Ophelia.
The staging was good, with a relatively bare stage most of the time. A ramp led down from the back of the stage to a raised dais, giving plenty of scope for ramparts and other spaces. The trapdoor was also well used. Furniture was brought on and off as required, but without distracting from the play. At the point when Hamlet spotted Claudius, Hamlet was on the upper balcony; he took some time to reach the ground floor, giving Claudius time to settle to his prayers, and Hamlet a chance to have second thoughts. Nicely done.
I also want to praise the players. They performed very well, and there was an unusual touch – the player king actually took on the role of the queen/duchess in the Murder of Gonzago – no doubt because the young lad who had played the female roles had obviously outgrown them! Something else to keep the regular playgoer alert and paying attention.
Not that they needed such tricks. There was a rapturous reception from the audience with three curtain calls required. I left the theatre elated and grateful that I’d been able to witness this production.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me