I suppose I can be philosophical about David Tennant’s absence from this play. I have, after all, seen him in about 13 other plays over the years and will hopefully see him in a few more in the future. Also I would have gone to an RSC Hamlet anyway, whoever was playing the prince.
There were a few gaps in the seating as the lights went down and (probably patronisingly) I did feel a little sorry for those that had swallowed their disappointment and come to the play for the good of their immortal soul, or something, especially as some of the early scenes felt incredibly static when the stage was full of people. I realise that there are a lot of long speeches where everyone on stage has to pay attention to the speaker without fidgeting but something made me aware of just how still they all were. It may have been that the audience didn’t react, at all, until the farewell scene between Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia. This is a minor quibble because the play warmed up quite quickly after that and any silence from the audience felt more like wrapt attention than bewilderment.
The most disappointing thing about the play was that I didn’t find myself missing David Tennant in the slightest. I’ll not use any fancy words about Edward Bennett’s performance other than that I believed it and he seemed to fit the role well. Some masochistic part of me probably wanted some traces of a David Tennant-shaped hole in the production but I couldn’t spot one. There were one or two things I didn’t like: The duel at the end was a little chaotic and unpractised and Edward Bennett left out about four lines from the “To Be or not..” soliloquy which would have been an unlikely cut even if no one cares about making quietus with a bare bodkin these days.
The production re-ordered some of the scenes and I thought it made the story hang together quite well. One problem with the swapping around of scenes was that it was a long two hours until the interval and I was certainly beginning to flag as it approached. Something I noticed strongly this time was the sheer stupidity of the scene where Osric delivers the news of the wager, setting up the fencing match/duel. I think it has always bothered me a bit – the way that Osric seems oblivious to the passions that have ripped through the court, introducing Laertes as if he is a visiting celebrity rather than the man who tried to storm the palace just days earlier and has recently had a fight in a grave with Hamlet.
It was good to see the likes of Patrick Stewart, Penny Downey and Mark (I’m sure it’s him in the “Water in Majorca” Heineken TV ad) Hadfield doing their stuff, as well as the underused John Woodvine.