Due to the beauty that is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s special student rates where you can see £5, I was able to score two tickets for their 2008/09 London season at The Novello Theatre on the Aldwych. Words can not contain how much I wanted these tickets when I first heard about the cast and the fact I was going to be in London at the same time. Both performances had me in bliss for 3 hours 30 minutes. The two nights I went were December 30, 2008 and January 10, 2009 (the last performance). The difference between the two are mainly focussed around the fact that David Tennant was still recovering in the former replaced by Edward Bennett, but was back for the latter. I also had opera glasses (£3.99 at the NT shop) for the second showing which allowed me a view of their faces, making it even more interesting. As a preface, I must admit that I have not seen any Shakespeare play of this caliber, and as much as I love the performing arts, I have not been able to indulge in as many shows as I would like especially given I lived in a town not as cultural as London. Therefore, this was quite special for me.
The Play: Without going into a major review of Hamlet, I will say this is one of the first Shakespeare plays I read, later studied it in high school, and it remains one of my favourite of the plays even if none of the characters are likable, and it’s got some issues with the incest and the violence and the madness. It has some of the best and most beautiful Shakespearean lines though, and it’s incredibly meta with the Moustrap and its speeches about acting.
The Theatre: A very nice theatre restored to its glory a few years ago. It’s just so incredibly nice and not too large either. What I would give for a balcony seat for a show. I would like to go back as it has a lovely gold and old decor style as well as a wonderful use of mirrors. On a funny note, the theatre sent me two letters after I bought my tickets in October. First it was to inform everyone of the ticket switching measure to prevent counterfeit tickets and the second to tell about David Tennant. They are very vigilant about patrons, it seems at the Novello/RSC.
The Production/Adaptation: The stage used a backdrop of mirrors. There was a proound use of mirrors in the show which is interesting and worked incredibly well. Lighting was perfect as was music. I like the costume choices for the production as well; classic suits for the men and simple but elegant dresses for the women. I only wish they could have kept Hamlet in the long coat as they had in the posters. The direction is supreme of couse. Many people read the play as very tragic and nutty, but like all Shakespearean plays, it has some of the comedy in it which was really showcased in this production’s choices of line delivery and physical comedy by the Hamlet actors. The Mousetrap was very well done and amusing. Even if I knew the jokes from the play and also since I saw this production the week before, I still laughed at the same jokes and some other ones I didn’t notice before. That is the beauty of a good Shakespeare play, more gems as you watch it set on stage.
The Cast: Ah the reason everyone was foaming at the mouth for tickets is the casting of Hamlet: David Tennant (aka the Tenth Doctor) as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart (aka Captain Jean-Luc Picard, also aka Professor X and so on) as Claudius. Acting is the most important thing in such a play, and in such a star studded and talented cast, a lot can be said.
Polonius: Hilarious. I was reading a lot of reviews raving about how good Oliver Ford Davies was, and his comic timing is gold. He completely gets enraptured as the old fuddy-duddy. A great part of the comic relief is him, and just well done all around.
Player King: played by John Woodvine who I actually recognized since he was in Persuasian (1995) among a couple of other things. He’s as classic as you can think in the short role.
Ophelia: I was impressed with Mariah Gale and the way the production used this Ophelia. Her first real scene with Laertes and then Polonius comes off of someone very normal and the shyness and sadness slowly seeps in. I think Gale’s acting choices were so good. Mostly because I admire female actors a lot, and she did very well both nights I saw her particularly when she switched from rage and sadness during the insane Ophelia bits.
Cladius/Ghost: When I was growing up, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. When Patrick Stewart came on stage the first time, it felt surreal and almost unbelievable to watch him: It’s Capt. Jean-Luc Picard! I’ve seen a lot of stuff with PS and continue to be impressed and in awe by him. Even as I was reading A Christmas Carol last month, I heard his voice because of his one man show audio of the book and the film adaptation. He is, in short, awesome. In the second performance, I was able to see his face and expressions and little smiles. I am very grateful to have seen him on stage finally, and I am trying to find a way to see Waiting for Godot with him and Ian McKellan in April, but I might have lucked out with two Hamlet performances.
Hamlet: Am I ever glad that I was able to secure Hamlet tickets for not one, but two nights because I did not miss the amazing David Tennant nor discovered the wonder that is Edward Bennett. In the first performance, I kept thinking about DT in the role when EB was on stage, but after awhile, I really grew to like him. In fact, I felt this tug of nostalgia when I saw him as Laertes in the second performance. I think while DT is more comedic, EB’s Hamlet could be more melancholic but still good at the mad parts. EB also acted slightly more violently towards both Ophelia and Gertrude; he can be a very strong physical performer in his own right. He is not conventionally good looking, but he has a nice, deep voice. I am not going to say which was better because I really felt each of them was excellent their own way and now I know about EB, I am looking forward to tracking his career and looking out for him. He really gave a wonderful performance.
When I saw DT on stage, I thought, “He really is that skinny in real life, and he has a very long neck,” Ha! Okay, that were not my first parts, but those occured to me. DT has a tendency to act with his hair in his roles and this one is a prime example because he starts off very gelled and then after seeing the Ghost, he messes up his hair (not the last time he does it in the night) and it stays wild through out the play. Well, he does have great hair and his sideburns are back no doubt because Doctor Who is back in production in a week’s time. He is a very physical actor with good comic timing. His interactions with Ophelia in the play scene are much more vulgar than EB showed, and actually even more affectionate. He is like a rabbit on stage at times, but in a good way and not completely out of control. He has a lot of energy which you see on screen, but it is different seeing him on stage especially considering how he’s had to do it every night this week just recovering from his back surgery.
Once again, I really feel blessed to have seen two talented actors in a splendid production of Hamlet. I had some of the best time since I got to London because it truly was bliss both performances. I was rapt with attention and it was just a lovely night for me both times.