Not usually one to miss a Hamlet, I'm not planning on going to see the impressionist Michael Sheen's take at the Young Vic (will he do it as David Frost? Will he do it as Tony Blair? [that's my guess] I'm only really interested if he does it as Kenneth Williams.) I did, however, stay loyal to my local theatres and see the Greenwich Playhouse's second take on the play: Having seen Bruce Jamieson's original production there in 2000, a domestic Hamlet that was impressively clearly told, and which had my theatre companion, unfamiliar with the play until then, gripped. Unfortunately it might have been better if I'd kept it as a pleasant memory instead of returning eleven years on, when Jamieson returns both as director and Claudius. It says here. I kinda have to take the cast list's word for it that the sound he was making was indeed Claudius' dialogue.
Once again a domestic version that edits out the politics (I don't have a problem with this, it works particularly well on a small stage) this also edits out the opening scene as well as seemingly random lines along the way. Cutting the play down to a playable length seems to have been viewed as a challenge rather than an opportunity to give the production its own identity (it kinda doesn't have one) and it comes in at under two and a half hours: An hour in the play-within-a-play's already been and gone. It's also a very old-fashioned production, not just in style but in some sometimes unpleasant attitudes: Having Osric (Kevin Millington) played as flamboyantly gay is a reasonable enough take; having Hamlet react by doing *limp wrist gesture* on his arrival is just unneccessary (and makes you glad the fucker's about to get what's coming to him.)
Robin Holden is possibly trying to play Hamlet as world-weary, but he comes across as bored. Since the opening scene has been cut, his being told by Horatio about his father's ghost is the first we hear about it as well, and maybe I'm being fussy but I'd have liked him to have reacted to the news. I don't mind how, just a reaction of some sort. I've been more taken aback by X Factor results than he is at finding out his dead dad's been roaming the battlements. Maybe if Horatio had mentioned that the ghost (former local news reporter Christopher Peacock¹) was wearing a wedding dress and blue lipstick, he might have given more of a shit. The women are the only ones who manage to salvage a bit of dignity, Elana Martin a decent enough Ophelia (even if the rushed nature of the production means her mad scene feels completely unearned) and Jane Stanton's main problem as Gertrude being that she looks slightly younger than her son.
But the cuts were the most problematic thing for me. Some of them are huge and sweeping, with some speeches (including "To be or not to be") also moved around in order, but some of the little ones are so bizarre and nonsensical I genuinely don't know if they're actually cuts that were made, or the actors forgetting their lines. For instance why even bother to keep "The funeral baked meats Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables" if you're going to cut the "Thrift, thrift Horatio!" that precedes it? It's a darkly cynical joke, not a handy Nigella tip. Later, why keep Hamlet telling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Denmark's a prison, if he's not then going to expand on the thought and explain it with the "bounded in a nutshell" speech?
Speaking of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Jamieson does repeat something I remembered from his 2000 production, making the duo (Kevin Millington and Andrew Leishman) slimy, openly sycophantic and sinister. Which does do the trick of making them stand out more than they sometimes do, but has the downside of not making much sense.² Hamlet saying he's going to fake his madness is cut, which I could have taken as a choice to imply the madness is real if Holden had actually played madness at all, as opposed to just "shoutiness." At the end, as Hamlet lies dying and making his final speech, Horatio (Darren Stamford) basically leaves him to die on his own and wanders off to have a look round the other bodies and see if anything more interesting is going on. I know how he felt.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare is booking until the 9th of October at Greenwich Playhouse.
¹he used to be called simply Chris Peacock, until he found out viewers liked to refer to him as Crispy Cock
²who in their right mind would employ, to spy on Hamlet, two people whose allegiances are so clearly to Claudius, and who make no attempt to pretend they even like Hamlet?