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 Hamlet
²as it happens, the fact that every production chooses to make different cuts is a large reason for this