Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hamlet without the Prince

Some time ago, Nisha booked for us to see the RSC Hamlet in the West End, knowing it starred David Tennant, who manages to be a very fine actor as well as being a star. In case anybody doesn't know, he's put his back out, and Edward Bennet, who was playing Laertes, has moved up to the title role. It does seem a bit odd to see a comparative unknown playing the title role in what is clearly a star vehicle - Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies..... but it's also rather nice to see an actor playing the part who is not at all showy and doesn't have a known persona to fill or undermine. In fact, he's very good.

During the first half, we were sitting miles away. The production seemed to be about the mirrored set, the sound system and Penny Downie's enormous dress. In the second half, because lots of Dr. Who fans hadn't bothered to turn up, we moved down to the stalls, from where it was a different play. The tourist theatre element vanished - and it became almost entirely about psychology, and was very beautifully acted. I'm not sure I like Gregory Doran's direction much: he's concentrated on the family play, and lost any sense of a radical edge in the process, so it feels very safe. Fortinbras is reduced to a token entrance - all his lines in the final scene are cut. And the "court" simply stand around and watch as the protagonists interact. But that's true of much RSC work these days - it's lost any social dimension.

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