Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Wyndhams Theatre, 1-Jun-2009 – Directed by Michael Grandage

This is, at least, my 17th Hamlet and I think it has clouded my opinion of this production.
Firstly, relax, I thought that Jude Law was pretty damn good in this. He has a relaxed and confident style that stopped me from thinking “Oh that's Jude Law up there” and he really seemed to be addressing most of his soliloquies to the audience rather than the to the darkness of the hall or the lighting rig in front of the Circle. I sometimes wonder whether you could use Hamlet's talking to the audience and braking the fourth wall as some kind of indication of his madness (of course that means he'd has to be mad from the start and a director might not want that).
This production went by at quite a lick, I didn't feel the three hours and some of the set-piece scenes (e.g. the Gravedigger scene – second time I've seen David Burke as the gravedigger, first was with Daniel Day-Lewis 20 years back), while not rushed, were over before before I was able to savour them. I found this a spare production, no fat or business beyond what is on the page and I felt the actors were living in the moments dictated by their lines, rather than having a living characterisation moving from scene to scene. I might be the only person who noticed this and that might well be because I've imagined it.
It did mean that I had a problem with this production, possibly caused by 16 other Hamlets. I have long thought that Hamlet is badly structured, though brilliantly written. There are gaps in the plot (like seeing the progression of Hamlet's madness between Acts One and Two – you are just presented with the fact that he has gone mad) and scenes that seem to contradict earlier ones (fierce graveside fight between Hamlet and Laertes followed by a civilised apparently formal fencing match). I wonder if the spareness of this production and apparent lack of continuous inner life of the characters was the thing that made the flaws and the cracks in the play really stand out for me.
I won't fault the acting although I'm not certain that Penelope Wilton's Gertrude or Gugu Mbatha-Raw's Ophelia were really given the opportunity to sink their teeth into their roles and have a good chew. I might have imagined it but I thought that Kevin McNally's Claudius was a little more sympathetically played than usual.


Jonathan Dudley said...

Interesting review, thanks for your comment on our blog. Little mistakes now sorted. Christ knows where I got 'Dutch' from.

Anonymous said...

Tim, you said you've seen 17 Hamlets, did you manage to see Simon Russell Beale's?

I just saw this at a matinee yesterday and I feel the exact same thing about Law. I will aim to write a review!

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