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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Theatre review: Hamlet (Shakespeare's Globe & tour) 
12th-May-2011 11:23 pm
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This isn't just my first trip to the Globe's 2011 season but also my first (and so far likely to be the only) Hamlet of the year. Before I start, several months ago aka_kelly and I had, for some reason, a lengthy conversation about the Globe's rather collectable programmes, which for last year's "Kings and Rogues" season had covers that gave each production its own coat of arms. So for her benefit I'm going to be posting this year's designs for each show, and the theme being "The Word Is God" (commemorating the anniversary of the King James Bible) the accompanying design theme is illustrated capital letters, of the sort you'd associate with antique Bibles. So here's the first:

amlet is a small-scale touring production with Joshua McGuire in the title role - he was one of the Posh boys last year and Misfits viewers should remember his brief appearance as a teleporter with a rat's tail haircut in one of that show's more memorable "fuck you"s to the audience. Right off the bat you can't miss how tiny he is and his size informs his performance, from moments when he overtly pokes fun at it, to less tangible things like how slippery a character it makes him, constantly on the move and out of reach.

Prior to tonight I'd heard a lot about how condensed this version of the play is, but I think a lot of this is to do with the publicity, and director Dominic Dromgoole's programme note, drawing attention to the cuts made, and how they fit in to the tradition of touring productions in Shakespeare's time. Dromgoole and Text Associate Giles Block have come up with a version that takes its structure, and the odd bit of dialogue, from the Bad Quarto, but the story is very much intact - a lot more so, I would argue, than in many productions I've seen that have made no claim to being condensed. The Fortinbras strand, which I've more than once seen excised completely¹, remains here; we have our full complement of gravediggers and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get the odd moment in the sun. The most noticeable difference is that Hamlet himself doesn't have quite as many soliloquies as usual, although of course The Biggie remains. Overall though the edits are a lot subtler than in many other productions I've seen, and at nearly 2 hours 50 minutes (I'm not even including the jig) it's barely much shorter than usual anyway. A more noticeable cut is to the amount of cast members, only seven other actors joining McGuire and doubling furiously. It does lead to some loss of subtlety in character delineation but not as much as you'd expect, and at times Dromgoole's juggling act is very impressive - the simple but clever way in which he gets around the fact that Amanda Hadingue and Simon Armstrong are playing both onstage and real King and Queen in the play-within-a-play is a highlight.

With less soliloquies to endear himself to the audience with, McGuire goes for another approach and is easily the funniest Hamlet I've seen since Ed Bennett, which is a big vote of approval from me. Some of his line readings weren't the best I've heard but he's certainly not overwhelmed by the huge role. He's also something I haven't seen for a very long time: A genuinely mentally ill Hamlet, whose madness is not as feigned as he thinks and who spends much of the play darting around the stage barefoot in a grubby vest and longjohns. Elsewhere, after a few meh Ophelias lately, I found Jade Anouka's delivery of the mad scene in particular engrossing, while John Bett goes firmly for the funnier, more loveable kind of Polonius, though some of his trademark babble has been a victim of the edits. Overall this isn't the most memorable Hamlet, but it's a straightforward and faithful telling of the story, however much it may break with recent tradition over editing choices.

Having started with a message specifically for aka_kelly, I'll end with one for ems who I know, despite being a huge Globe fan, doesn't want this to be her first Hamlet due to the cuts. Obviously you have to go with your instinct but my two cents would be in favour of you biting the bullet. First, like I say, most versions of Hamlet are heavily edited, at least here the production team are very open about the edits made and the reasoning behind them. Second, don't wait for the definitive Hamlet, there is no such thing and that's what's so great about it: I've said it before but every time I see the play it's about something different². Just jump in and start your collection of "oh yeah, that was the XYZ Hamlet"s. Third, to be honest this is as close as you'll get to that definitive version anyway, in that it's a straightforward telling of the story without a high concept, unlike say Grandage's thriller, Hytner's political conspiracy drama or the misjudged "Glaswegian mafia" version that toured last year. Like I say, up to you if you don't want to lose your Elsinore virginity to this one but I thought I'd provide the opposite argument.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare is in repertory until the 9th of July at Shakespeare's Globe and on tour.

¹I call these productions "domestic Hamlets"

²as it happens, the fact that every production chooses to make different cuts is a large reason for this
Comments 
14th-May-2011 12:16 am (UTC)
See, now I've been feeling kind of bad that I'm seeing everything else this season BAR Hamlet. sgskgadkjgsd. Also someone told me to go watch the Ben Whishaw version of Hamlet at the V&A and then just get on with it, so maybe I should do that? I AM OVERTHINKING THIS.
14th-May-2011 12:41 pm (UTC)
Heh, "you're overthinking this" is basically what I was trying to say, but I guess using eight sentences where three words would do is at least appropriately Poloniusesque. I think that even though I don't know you in person, I'm very much putting myself in your position (especially after you tweeted the other day about how shit it is to have missed something "unmissable") and because Hamlet is so hugely open to interpretation, it has so many more of those little details that still stick in my memory, like Sam West's Hamlet sharing a spliff with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Claire Higgins' alcoholic Gertrude, Penny Downie's Gertrude realising the wine's drugged and drinking it anyway or most apt for you perhaps, Grant O'Rourke's Hamlet fanboying the Player King which I imagine probably wasn't a million miles away from you meeting Jamie Parker. Basically hurry up, you need to start building your own collection of these.

In case it wasn't blatantly obvious from the fact that I can't shut up about it, if I ever do get back into theatre directing I am desperate to do this fucker (I already have two separate possible treatments in mind.)
15th-May-2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
Ah, I get what you mean now.....a good choice really to use "old script" letters...it gives plenty of scope to generate an "atmosphere" to suit the production.
15th-May-2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
Yep they have a nice balance of theming the whole season while giving the show its individuality. I'll keep posting the rest in my reviews over the summer but in the meantime the two shows I won't be going to: Anne oleyn is a revival from last year, and a reading of the complete ible at Easter which I skipped for reasons which should be obvious.
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