Posted 11 June 2013 - 09:10 PM
Posted 11 June 2013 - 09:37 PM
For a Friday night it was quite a small crowd: the top section hadn't been sold at all, the middle section had big gaps and there were some empties in the stalls, too. At least it reduced the queues for the loos.
It's a pretty straightforward production. It's very easy to follow plot-wise if you don't know the play: for various reasons we ended up going in two shifts, so my younger who'd not seen Hamlet before went last Saturday and appeared not to miss much. The performances are at worst solid, and Greg Hicks' Claudius and Pippa Nixon's Ophelia are really, really good. Hicks captures the ambiguous mixture of scheming and uxoriousness, and Nixon is touching with a core of steel. It's mostly well spoken. The set is a slightly awkward mix of thrust and some use of the old proscenium, which means it gets very cramped at the back of the stage in some scenes, but mostly works well. There's a bit of business with Fortinbras' army and removing the floor of the stage which takes forever, but mostly it's unobtrusive.
There are two main problems. One is that it's very slow, and therefore rushes in other places. It went up on time at 7, and the interval didn't arrive until five to nine, by which time we'd just finished The Mousetrap. The last RSC Hamlet, Doran/Tennant, waited until "and if he dies he goes to heaven", and I'm sure didn't take nearly two hours to get there. Several key scenes in the second half, particularly Claudius' convincing of Laertes to join him in his scheme to kill Hamlet, therefore felt gabbled to catch up on time. Perhaps you could retrospectively make a case that rushing through Ophelia's funeral captures the maimed rites and shortened obsequies, but I suspect that's over-interpreting; it was actually just a bit rushed.
The second problem, which probably causes the first, is Jonathan Slinger. Sorry, but Hamlet with a bald patch isn't working for me, and he's too self-consious in the soliloquies. Yes, I can see that he's trying to avoid the big set pieces coming over as big set pieces, but the result is that they're fragmented and worked over, which makes them both slow and difficult to follow. "Too too solid flesh" was weak, but I almost dozed off somewhere in "To be or not to be," jerking awake around "undiscovered country". He also does a heh-heh-heh thing which is I presume meant to be his feigned madness, but I seem to recall was also his Doctor Evil laugh in the (largely unsatisfactory) History Cycle Richard III. I can't imagine that Cis Berry would be impressed: it's all rather obviously actorly. The shame is that when there are other people on stage with him, he's really good, and at a couple of moments you had flashes of what the production could have been: his scene with R&G culminating with his claim to be able to tell a hawk from a handsaw was truly excellent.
I like Slinger as a presence. I thought his Richard II was fabulous, his Macbeth very good, his Malvolio probably the first I've really enjoyed and his Prospero one of the better things in a somewhat flawed production. But here I think there's a whiff of it being a pet project of his and Farr's which should have been done a few years ago but was pushed aside in favour of Tennant's production with Doran. Which is a shame for them both, but I think the time has passed.
It's certainly not a bad production, and there's plenty to enjoy. It's just not satisfying. And Christ, it's slow.
Edit to add:
Reading that back, I think I wrote a lot more negatively than I intended.
The key point is that I enjoyed it, as did my elder daughter. It's just that the two major productions we've seen recently (Doran's at the RSC and Paul Miler's with John Simm at the Crucible) were a lot better, and I doubt many would disagree with that judgement.
I think that if you were studying Hamlet at school, or hadn't seen it for a while, or hadn't seen it done well, you'd be impressed. On my younger daughter's evidence it's a very good first production to see. Indeed, near us, a couple of people who weren't obviously American were enthusiastically ovating at the end. It's got the sort of attention to detail that you associate with Farr and, indeed, with the RSC more generally, and clearly a great deal of effort has been put into it.
There are all sorts of little touches which, tactically, work very well. Pace my usual objections, the Gravediggers (I think somewhat cut, but I could be wrong) deliver a useful counterpoint. All Denmark's a Prison is present, correct and relevant. Hamlet's on-stage right at the beginning, as the ghost makes his first appearance, which lends an interesting tension and I don't think I've seen done before. They avoid the popular temptation to imply R&G are interchangeable when Gertrude greets them, which I think has become a bore (the problem with that particular piece of business is that you spend the next five minutes recalling favourite lines from Stoppard's play). Scene by scene by scene, pacing aside, it's all present and correct.
My problem was that strategically, it lacks a vision of what the play is actually about, particular in terms of Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia. You don't get a real sense of Laertes' and Hamlet's conflicting but also parallel grief at Ophelia's graveside. Robin Soans' Polonius is very good in general, but the production decides to make his manipulation and control of Ophelia very explicit. But Charlotte Cornwall's Gertrude makes her grief for the wedding that never happened absolutely clear, helped by the way the madness scene is played (no spoilers!) I realise the text doesn't help here, and the difference between responses to a courtier's daughter's love for the prince in the seventeenth century and today is an issue. But to me it didn't quite gel. I doubt this would trouble new arrivals, but it troubled me. I was concerned by the nunnery scene, and I think the Guardian-reader in me was thinking "if you're going to play with misogyny and violence against young women, you need to think it through a bit more and justify your decisions more clearly". Given his recent speech on domestic violence, I wonder what Patrick Stewart would make of it.
I'm also concerned by the trend to cut Fortinbras at the end. The Doran production ended on "flights of angels sing thee to thy rest", and this ends on the next line "Why does the drum come hither?" I can see why it's done: aside from being logistically easier, it focusses the play on the tragedy of the family qua family, rather than the family qua royalty. The people that die are people, rather than title-holders, although that's undermined by Hamlet's anointing of Horatio as his successor, which obviously stays in. The play ends with a stage full of bodies, rather than with a regiment of soldiers milling around. However, it inevitably loses the lines "Take up the bodies: such a sight as this // Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss" which I think are core to the play, and I like the sense that the death of Hamlet and his family is followed by Denmark continuing anyway. Perhaps this is just me.
It's worth seeing (and, to judge by last night, tickets are easily available). But if you know the play well, don't expect to learn more about it than you already know.
Posted 12 June 2013 - 05:37 AM
Posted 12 June 2013 - 07:35 AM
I forgot to say, by the way, that the Hamlet featured the three essential components of an RSC production of the 21st century: there was folk dancing, there was a fake ###### [ETA: gentleman's parts], there was water from the flies. That the three dominant tropes of the past few years were present and correct shows how little "new" there was. If Doran wants to shake things up a bit, he could insist that only two of the three be used in future productions.
Posted 12 June 2013 - 07:49 AM
This instantly put me in mind of "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin" for some reason. A reference only people of a certain age will get.
Posted 12 June 2013 - 12:43 PM
I might be wrong but I think Lynette was making fun of people complaining about celebrity casting.
Posted 12 June 2013 - 07:21 PM
Posted 12 June 2013 - 10:23 PM
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