Hamlet, price of Denmark, is distraught after the death of his father, to say nothing of the ease with which his uncle has taken the late king’s place both on the throne and in the queen’s bed. The late king’s ghost appears, hinting that his death was no accident and urging Hamlet to avenge him. When the ghost next appears, it tells Hamlet that the current occupant of the throne is the killer. The knowledge sharpens Hamlet’s desire for revenge and slowly begins to drive him mad. He plans to expose his uncle as his father’s assassin, but the new king is too wily to be drawn out so easily. Hamlet becomes more relentless, and soon doesn’t care who pays the price for the truth to be known.
written by William Shakespeare
directed by Gregory Doran
music by Paul Englishby
Cast: David Tennant (Hamlet), Patrick Stewart (Claudius / The Ghost), Penny Downie (Gertrude), Oliver Ford Davies (Polonius), Mariah Gale (Ophelia), Edward Bennett (Laertes), Peter de Jersey (Horatio), Sam Alexander (Rosencrantz / Second Gravedigger), Tom Davey (Guildenstern), Mark Hadfield (Gravedigger), John Woodvine (Player King), Ryan Gage (Osric / Player Queen), Samuel Dutton (Dumbshow King), Jim Hooper (Dumbshow Queen / Priest), David Ajala (Reynaldo / Dumbshow Poisoner), Keith Osborn (Marcelius), Ewen Cummins (Barnardo), Robert Curtis (Francisco / Fortinbras), Roderick Smith (Voltemand), Andrea Harris (Cornelia), Ricky Champ (Lucianus), Riann Steele (Lady-in-waiting), Zoe Thorne (Lady-in-waiting)
LogBook entry and review by Earl Green
Review: I’m a big Hamlet fan, enough of one that I can be a bit hard to please. So many phrases that we take for granted as a part of the English language spring from this single Shakespeare masterpiece. I can allow a lot of latitude for amateur productions, but for the pros – and the Royal Shakespeare Company, no less – I absolutely expect to be blown away. This production, which sold out repeatedly (and drew complaints from a few critics about the casting of SF TV superstars David Tennant and Patrick Stewart), more than met that expectation.
I’m not sure which of the two stars earned more of my admiration. Patrick Stewart delivers a knockout dual performance as both Hamlet’s slyly villainous uncle and as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. He’s positively scary in both roles. This Claudius leaves no doubt that he’s the sort who would slip a knife between anyone’s ribs if it suited his agenda, and as the thundering, raging ghost he’s terrifying. Tennant’s Hamlet is more of a slow build – he starts out almost as a milquetoast, parted hair flattened down to his head and barely speaking up, and grows more disheveled and wild as the story wears on, with his trademark wild hair returning. Tennant plays Hamlet in the more or less the same accent as he uses for Doctor Who; I think his natural accent could’ve been used here, but then again, I didn’t see the lack of his Scots accent hurting ticket sales. Other standouts in the cast are Peter de Jersey, very impressive as Horatio, and Mariah Gale as Ophelia, who turns in an unnerving performance of her own. Oliver Ford Davies shines as Polonius too.
The play’s setting and accoutrements are slightly modernized, but not too much. Bayonet rifles and a handgun aren’t completely out of place in the story, and there’s still swordplay to be had. Hamlet’s mother’s own downward spiral into despair is demonstrated by her smoking. And very cleverly, while some monologues and soliloquoys are delivered directly to the audience down the barrel of the camera, some of the “god’s eye view” of characters coming and going is shown via “security cameras”; about halfway through the story, Hamlet acquires a handheld film camera and begins recording his own thoughts with it. The nature of the play demands some fourth-wall-busting moments, but the use of these more modern conventions eases things somewhat, and perhaps draws out a different performance – Hamlet speaking to his camera can be more introspective than Hamlet delivering what’s meant to be an internal monologue to an all-seeing audience, and it also smacks of just a little narcissism. The directing is brilliant throughout, even though, as with Hamlet on stage, there aren’t a great many sets; when the story finally does moves outdoors for location shooting, it’s a bit of a shock to the system.
In short, everyone associated with this production can take great pride in it. And David Tennant is showing that, like Patrick Stewart before him, he probably won’t be typecast as a science fiction hero for his entire life.