Friday, 25 July 2008

Tennant takes ownership

Mr Gnome relished every moment of last night's first performance of Hamlet at Stratford's Courtyard Theatre.

So much can (and often does) go wrong when this strange, complex play makes the journey from page to stage: dodgy directorial 'concepts'; showy-offy performers; a mis-cast Prince (too old/dull/self-indulgent/bold/scared).

In short, a regular minefield of hot potatoes.

I'm pleased to report that the current production, under the direction of Gregory Doran, features none of the above.

Doran and his cast concentrate on getting the words across and telling the story - with clarity, briskness, wit and spirit. The show came in at just over three-and-a-half gripping hours, with a tip-top cliff-hanger immediately before the interval.

Played on a mostly bare stage, the production benefits from an atmospheric background of shifting reflective panels.

Doran has chosen modern dress - fine for immediacy, but, for me, at the price of connection with the 'thought world' out of which Shakespeare created the play, in which, for instance, a belief in Purgatory had as many political implications as religious.

David Tennant's Prince is, as you might expect, quirky and intense. But also mercurial, intelligent and charismatic. His grief for his father is palpable. It's a performance of terrific energy, insight and authority: fast and funny, tender and broken. No Shakespeare character comes with more boxes to tick - and Tennant checks every single one.

No danger of this being a 'star vehicle' with the in-depth casting that Doran has assembled.

Patrick Stewart doubles the roles of the Ghost and Claudius, suggesting the latter's complex inner life and occasionally hinting that, apart from his homicidal tendencies, he was probably a tip-top monarch.

I could go on.

I've seen umpteen dysfunctional Danes over the years. This is one of the best.

And thousands of young Who fans are going to turn up to see the Doctor - and will go away, I'm certain, having had a close encounter with William Shakespeare - life-changing, quite possibly.

What's not to like?


Webrarian said...

Thanks for such a good review. Now I know what I'm missing.

I'm particularly touched by the idea that people who wouldn't otherwise go near a performance of 'Hamlet' are going to see something of such excellence.

Mr Gnome said...

Thanks so much.

I wanted to write it there and then - unsullied by the comments of the newspaper critics.

Press night is Tuesday, I think.

There are still tickets for Loves Labours, I believe.