HAMLET: William Shakespeare.
RSC: Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Runs: 3h 35m, one interval, till Saturday Nov 15.
Review: Rod Dungate, 5 August 2008.
What a lovely production! Gregory Doran creates a performance of great clarity and great style. The play’s overt theatricality is given a freshness by nodding in the direction of old-style horror films (including their humour) yet the production is also firmly anchored as a domestic tragedy. For this latter, much is owed to fine acting from a first-rate company; Hamlet doesn’t spring out as a sole figure, he is part of a rich, intriguing, painful, dark network of family and court relationships.
It’s extraordinary how real these seem, how deep they seem to go. Whether it’s Hamlet’s affection for Horatio, Claudius’s nervy suspicion of Hamlet, Polonius’s relationships with his children, the court, himself, all these connections feel as if they’ve been forged over many years.
Another mark of the skill of this company is the clarity with which they perform the text. Doran allows each moment to find its own dynamic; moments feel as if they settle in comfortably. The actors rise to their opportunities, explore the words in great (and possibly loving) detail. The result is easy on the ear and story-telling that shines.
David Tennant brings many qualities to Hamlet. He’s mercurial, unpredictable, frightening and funny. He plays with great intensity yet, for the scenes after his return from England, brings a centredness, a calmness of purpose that complements Hamlet’s confusion early on. He has the ability to make every word he speaks sound natural – however bizarre his (Hamlet’s) behaviour.
Patrick Stewart keeps Claudius under tight control, yet you feel great emotions bubbling away beneath the surface. Moments when we glimpse beneath the exterior are telling – after his failed prayers, his quiet dismissal of the players and play, and (a revelation) as he receives notice of his successful negotiation of peace with Norway. Penny Downie completes this family group – quiet, elegant, trying to support the men around her but inevitable victim of the storm.
Oliver Ford Davies creates a terrific Polonius; he brings together with great power Polonius’s love for those around him and his cynical darkness – he’s a man who knows that knowledge is power. Of course Polonius is past his prime and Davies has a fine comic sense of Polonius’s dottiness; our relationship with him mirrors the characters’ relationship with him so we care about him as much as they do.
And talking of mirrors . . . designer Robert Jones makes real, Shakespeare’s metaphor in Hamlet’s advice to the players; both walls and floor are mirrored. His designs are elegant and beautiful, crystal chandeliers fly in and out, sometimes replaced by candle lanterns. Light and dark are important . . . and the pitch black opening scenes on the castle battlements are thrilling.
Hamlet: David Tennant.
Claudius / The Ghost: Patrick Stewart.
Gertrude: Penny Downie.
Polonius: Oliver Ford Davies.
Laertes: Edward Bennett.
Ophelia: Mariah Gale.
Reynaldo: David Ajala.
Horatio: Peter de Jersey.
Rosencrantz: Sam Alexander.
Guildenstern: Tom Davey.
Marcellus: Keith Osborn.
Barnardo: Ewen Cummins.
Francisco: Robert Curtis.
Player King: John Woodvine.
Player Queen: Ryan Gage.
Lucianus: Ricky Champ.
Prologue: Roderick Smith.
Dumbshow King: Samuel Dutton.
Dumbshow Queen: Jim Hooper.
Dumbshow Poisoner: David Ajala.
Gravedigger: Mark Hadfield.
Second Gravedigger: Sam Alexander.
Osric: Ryan Gage.
Priest: Jim Hooper.
Voltemand: Roderick Smith.
Cornelia: Andrea Harris.
Lady in Waiting: Riann Steele.
Page: Zoe Thorne.
Court Attendant: Samuel Dutton.
Fortinbras: Robert Curtis.
Captain: Roderick Smith.
Directed by: Gregory Doran.
Designed by: Robert Jones.
Lighting Designed by: Tim Mitchell.
Music by: Paul Englishby.
Sound Designed by: Jeremy Dunn, Assisted by: Martin Slavin.
Movement by: Michael Ashcroft.
Company Text and Voice Work by: Lyn Darnley and Gigi Buffington.
Fights by: Terry King.
Assistant Director: Cressida Brown.
Music Director: John Woolf.
Casting by: Sam Jones.