Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hamlet Review

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Whilst David Farr has brought some interesting ideas to this the production, they do not come together effectively. The first thing you notice is the set design which does not gel together well. The whole performance space has been transformed into a run down fencing hall. It does foreshadow the final scene, but is this a good enough reason to change the play's setting? There was no sense of a royal court, but rather the faded and down-at-heel lifestyle of a local big-wig.

Furthermore, during the second act the floor is stripped away to show the skull-laden ground underneath. It is foreshadowing the graveyard scene, and Ophelia's grave does remain onstage for the rest of the production; an addition to the bodycount at the end. Despite this, the combination of fencing hall, graveyard and even a revealed backdrop of a moor during the final scene is disconcerting.

Last year, Jonathan Slinger proved he could play Malvolio and Prospero under David Farr's direction. When it comes to the Dane, Jonathan does show humour when he becomes mad, singing Ken Dodd's Happiness before delivering the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Later he begrudgingly tosses Yorick's skull  aside after accidentally breaking the jaw off. He also goes into bouts of rage and the "Get thee to a nunnery" moment is savage.

His dictation however does get tiresome. He has used it perfectly before, but when watching the longest Shakespeare play I wished David Farr had restrained Slinger. For most of the 3 hour and 35 minute production it is like being on a rollercoaster of Slinger's vocal range, at times going into the deepest, darkest catacombs of his voice. He also puts too much emphasis on some of the words. I could have made a sandwich whilst he said "". His delivery detracts from the text and a few good minutes could have been cut if he had sped up a bit.

Having seen him in The Winters Tale, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and King Lear, I personally feel that Greg Hicks is just being Greg Hicks. It may be his way of delivering Shakespeare's words but his tone of voice has always remained the same. Also, he may well have been playing a local big-wig rather than a King because despite being steely and brutish he just lacks presence. His scenes as the ghost however were majestic and combined with Hamlet, the pair showed a father-son affection for each other which was touching.

I was looking forward to seeing Pippa Nixon play Ophelia; indeed she does well playing the dutiful father's daughter who is left vulnerable to Hamlet's attacks, and her madness scene is her best moment of the production. However I thought she held back. Not that I was expecting the Bastard (or Rosalind for that matter), but I warmed to Mariah Gale's Ophelia more than Pippa in the role.

There are some bright spots. Charlotte Church plays an upstanding and regal Gertrude, and the death of Polonius leaves her broken. Robin Soans is a very discerning Polonius who easily wanders off the subject, whilst Oliver Ryan and Nicolas Tennant are raunchy and boisterous as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Otherwise Alex Waldmann is charming as ever playing Horatio. Overall however I feel David Farr has not directed the cast to their best ability.

With the modern setting comes the suits and formal dresses, though it was combined with Ophelia and Horatio wearing jumpers, as though they had just come off the set of a Norwegian crime TV series. When Hamlet becomes mad he dons a fencing doublet as though it was a straitjacket, whilst clutching onto his father's fencing mask. Having the ghost wear fencing clothes to represent his armour was a neat idea too. One costume choice that does not work appears during the dumb play, when one of the players comes out of no where in goth clothing. She is meant to represent death but it really was a "what the heck was that" moment.

There are good moments to enjoy, but the production feels as though David Farr did not put much thought into the acting and making his ideas cohesive. At 3 Hours and 35 Minutes this is not the most engaging production and should only be seen at a Bargain.

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