By William Shakespeare, edited by Bijan Sheibani and Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Company: RSC YPS
Venue: Courtyard Theatre
Date: Saturday 21st August 2010
All sorts of excitement today. We’d only been watching this seriously trimmed production for about ten minutes when the stage manager came on stage and told us all to get out! Well, she actually asked us to evacuate the building, so we did – not raining at the time, thank goodness – and about fifteen minutes later, they let us back in. No official explanation, but at least we got to see the rest of the performance.
The cast handled it very well, I thought. The break came just as Polonius was interrogating Ophelia about Hamlet’s interest in her, so they restarted from the beginning of that scene, and there were no more interruptions before the end.
The story was minimalist, to put it mildly. This is the version that’s done for the young folk, so I can appreciate the need to keep it short and simple, and we both reckoned they’d done a good job of telling the basic story. There was even some audience participation along the way. Fortinbras had obviously gone, as had most of the players’ involvement, though we did get the crucial Mousetrap mime. Horatio was Horatia, although they didn’t change the lines, and the opening scenes in particular were intercut rather than played through in order.
The opening mime showed us the old king dying, and the mourners covered him with their umbrellas so he could sneak off stage. These umbrellas were well used in this production, as they doubled for guns, a nice touch. Then Claudius told us about the Danish royal family’s situation – old king dead, new king married to the widow – and then we saw the ghost walking for the first time. Then it was Laertes leaving, and Peter Peverley as Polonius did a lovely thing with the line ‘He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave’. He only said the ‘He hath’, but held the ‘He’ so long, it fully conveyed the sense of the whole line.
After this, we were pretty much back on track, although everything was very much shortened to fit the seventy minute schedule. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were played almost as twins, wearing identical blazers, and bringing a lot of comic touches to the performance, mostly through their expressions.
I forget at which point they first asked for help from the audience. Hamlet brought a little girl up from the front row, by the left side aisle, and used her hands like a puppet to speak to another character, but I’ve completely blanked when. The second time was for the play-in-a-play. Ophelia, as one of the players and using a very strange accent, asked for a volunteer from the audience. A young woman from the circle put her hand up straightaway, and came down to help out. She had to be the pretend player king who gets the poison put in his ear, so all she had to do was wear a big fur coat and lie on the ground. Actually, she also had a line to say. Hamlet did an abbreviated version of his speech to the players about how to act, and she replied, ‘I will, my lord.’ Then we had the play itself. Both volunteers were applauded before they left the stage.
Ophelia’s drowning was demonstrated by means of a blue cloth, and for the burial scene she was carried in wrapped in the same cloth. When Hamlet’s ghost was describing his own murder (and there’s a scene that deserves to be seriously cut in any production) Claudius helpfully appeared on stage and showed, in mime, the actions the ghost was describing. As the ghost, Patrick Romer wore a small mask and moved in a slow, stately manner, which I found quite creepy. Polonius hid behind an open umbrella instead of an arras, and the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was also demonstrated in mime at the rear of the stage while Hamlet described it.
The fencing was reasonably brisk – nearly at the end – and Hamlet’s death was the quickest on record. I think he only said a couple of lines, finishing with the usual ending. And that was the end. The cast only took one set of bows, but then we had been delayed, and there was a matinee of King Lear due on in just over an hour, so I assume they were under orders to keep it short. The audience could have gone another round, but that’s how it goes sometimes. An excellent effort, and nice to see some of the minor role actors getting a chance to show what they can do, even in such a modified version.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me